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´╗┐Title: The Honor of the Name
Author: Gaboriau, Emile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Honor of the Name" ***

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THE HONOR OF THE NAME

By Emile Gaboriau



THE HONOR OF THE NAME



CHAPTER I

On the first Sunday in the month of August, 1815, at ten o\x92clock
precisely--as on every Sunday morning--the sacristan of the parish
church at Sairmeuse sounded the three strokes of the bell which warn
the faithful that the priest is ascending the steps of the altar to
celebrate high mass.

The church was already more than half full, and from every side little
groups of peasants were hurrying into the church-yard. The women were
all in their bravest attire, with cunning little _fichus_ crossed upon
their breasts, broad-striped, brightly colored skirts, and large white
coifs.

Being as economical as they were coquettish, they came barefooted,
bringing their shoes in their hands, but put them on reverentially
before entering the house of God.

But few of the men entered the church. They remained outside to talk,
seating themselves in the porch, or standing about the yard, in the
shade of the century-old elms.

For such was the custom in the hamlet of Sairmeuse.

The two hours which the women consecrated to prayer the men employed
in discussing the news, the success or the failure of the crops; and,
before the service ended, they could generally be found, glass in hand,
in the bar-room of the village inn.

For the farmers for a league around, the Sunday mass was only an excuse
for a reunion, a sort of weekly bourse.

All the cures who had been successively stationed at Sairmeuse had
endeavored to put an end to this scandalous habit, as they termed it;
but all their efforts had made no impression upon country obstinacy.

They had succeeded in gaining only one concession. At the moment of the
elevation of the Host, voices were hushed, heads uncovered, and a few
even bowed the knee and made the sign of the cross.

But this was the affair of an instant only, and conversation was
immediately resumed with increased vivacity.

But to-day the usual animation was wanting.

No sounds came from the little knots of men gathered here and there, not
an oath, not a laugh. Between buyers and sellers, one did not overhear
a single one of those interminable discussions, punctuated with the
popular oaths, such as: \x93By my faith in God!\x94 or \x93May the devil burn
me!\x94

They were not talking, they were whispering together. A gloomy
sadness was visible upon each face; lips were placed cautiously at the
listener\x92s ear; anxiety could be read in every eye.

One scented misfortune in the very air. Only a month had elapsed since
Louis XVIII. had been, for the second time, installed in the Tuileries
by a triumphant coalition.

The earth had not yet had time to swallow the sea of blood that flowed
at Waterloo; twelve hundred thousand foreign soldiers desecrated the
soil of France; the Prussian General Muffling was Governor of Paris.

And the peasantry of Sairmeuse trembled with indignation and fear.

This king, brought back by the allies, was no less to be dreaded than
the allies themselves.

To them this great name of Bourbon signified only a terrible burden of
taxation and oppression.

Above all, it signified ruin--for there was scarcely one among them who
had not purchased some morsel of government land; and they were assured
now that all estates were to be returned to the former proprietors, who
had emigrated after the overthrow of the Bourbons.

Hence, it was with a feverish curiosity that most of them clustered
around a young man who, only two days before, had returned from the
army.

With tears of rage in his eyes, he was recounting the shame and the
misery of the invasion.

He told of the pillage at Versailles, the exactions at Orleans, and the
pitiless requisitions that had stripped the people of everything.

\x93And these accursed foreigners to whom the traitors have delivered
us, will not go so long as a shilling or a bottle of wine is left in
France!\x94 he exclaimed.

As he said this he shook his clinched fist menacingly at a white flag
that floated from the tower.

His generous anger won the close attention of his auditors, and they
were still listening to him with undiminished interest, when the sound
of a horse\x92s hoofs resounded upon the stones of the only street in
Sairmeuse.

A shudder traversed the crowd. The same fear stopped the beating of
every heart.

Who could say that this rider was not some English or Prussian officer?
He had come, perhaps, to announce the arrival of his regiment, and
imperiously demand money, clothing, and food for his soldiers.

But the suspense was not of long duration.

The rider proved to be a fellow-countryman, clad in a torn and dirty
blue linen blouse. He was urging forward, with repeated blows, a little,
bony, nervous mare, fevered with foam.

\x93Ah! it is Father Chupin,\x94 murmured one of the peasants with a sigh of
relief.

\x93The same,\x94 observed another. \x93He seems to be in a terrible hurry.\x94

\x93The old rascal has probably stolen the horse he is riding.\x94

This last remark disclosed the reputation Father Chupin enjoyed among
his neighbors.

He was, indeed, one of those thieves who are the scourge and the terror
of the rural districts. He pretended to be a day-laborer, but the
truth was, that he held work in holy horror, and spent all his time in
sleeping and idling about his hovel. Hence, stealing was the only
means of support for himself, his wife, two sons--terrible youths, who,
somehow, had escaped the conscription.

They consumed nothing that was not stolen. Wheat, wine, fuel,
fruits--all were the rightful property of others. Hunting and fishing
at all seasons, and with forbidden appliances, furnished them with ready
money.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew this; and yet when Father Chupin was
pursued and captured, as he was occasionally, no witness could be found
to testify against him.

\x93He is a hard case,\x94 men said; \x93and if he had a grudge against anyone,
he would be quite capable of lying in ambush and shooting him as he
would a squirrel.\x94

Meanwhile the rider had drawn rein at the inn of the Boeuf Couronne.

He alighted from his horse, and, crossing the square, approached the
church.

He was a large man, about fifty years of age, as gnarled and sinewy as
the stem of an old grape-vine. At the first glance one would not have
taken him for a scoundrel. His manner was humble, and even gentle; but
the restlessness of his eye and the expression of his thin lips betrayed
diabolical cunning and the coolest calculation.

At any other time this despised and dreaded individual would have been
avoided; but curiosity and anxiety led the crowd toward him.

\x93Ah, well, Father Chupin!\x94 they cried, as soon as he was within the
sound of their voices; \x93whence do you come in such haste?\x94

\x93From the city.\x94

To the inhabitants of Sairmeuse and its environs, \x93the city\x94 meant
the country town of the _arrondissement_, Montaignac, a charming
sub-prefecture of eight thousand souls, about four leagues distant.

\x93And was it at Montaignac that you bought the horse you were riding just
now?\x94

\x93I did not buy it; it was loaned to me.\x94

This was such a strange assertion that his listeners could not repress a
smile. He did not seem to notice it, however.

\x93It was loaned me,\x94 he continued, \x93in order that I might bring some
great news here the quicker.\x94

Fear resumed possession of the peasantry.

\x93Is the enemy in the city?\x94 anxiously inquired some of the more timid.

\x93Yes; but not the enemy you refer to. This is the former lord of the
manor, the Duc de Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93Ah! they said he was dead.\x94

\x93They were mistaken.\x94

\x93Have you seen him?\x94

\x93No, I have not seen him, but someone else has seen him for me, and has
spoken to him. And this someone is Monsieur Laugeron, the proprietor of
the Hotel de France at Montaignac. I was passing the house this morning,
when he called me. \x91Here, old man,\x92 he said, \x91do you wish to do me a
favor?\x92 Naturally I replied: \x91Yes.\x92 Whereupon he placed a coin in my
hand and said: \x91Well! go and tell them to saddle a horse for you,
then gallop to Sairmeuse, and tell my friend Lacheneur that the Duc
de Sairmeuse arrived here last night in a post-chaise, with his son,
Monsieur Martial, and two servants.\x92\x94

Here, in the midst of these peasants, who were listening to him with
pale cheeks and set teeth, Father Chupin preserved the subdued mien
appropriate to a messenger of misfortune.

But if one had observed him carefully, one would have detected an
ironical smile upon his lips and a gleam of malicious joy in his eyes.

He was, in fact, inwardly jubilant. At that moment he had his revenge
for all the slights and all the scorn he had been forced to endure. And
what a revenge!

And if his words seemed to fall slowly and reluctantly from his lips, it
was only because he was trying to prolong the sufferings of his auditors
as much as possible.

But a robust young fellow, with an intelligent face, who, perhaps, read
Father Chupin\x92s secret heart, brusquely interrupted him:

\x93What does the presence of the Duc de Sairmeuse at Montaignac matter to
us?\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Let him remain at the Hotel de France as long as he
chooses; we shall not go in search of him.\x94

\x93No! we shall not go in search of him,\x94 echoed the other peasants,
approvingly.

The old rogue shook his head with affected commiseration.

\x93Monsieur le Duc will not put you to that trouble,\x94 he replied; \x93he will
be here in less than two hours.\x94

\x93How do you know?\x94

\x93I know it through Monsieur Laugeron, who, when I mounted his horse,
said to me: \x91Above all, old man, explain to my friend Lacheneur that the
duke has ordered horses to be in readiness to convey him to Sairmeuse at
eleven o\x92clock.\x92\x94

With a common movement, all the peasants who had watches consulted them.

\x93And what does he want here?\x94 demanded the same young farmer.

\x93Pardon! he did not tell me,\x94 replied Father Chupin; \x93but one need not
be very cunning to guess. He comes to revisit his former estates, and
to take them from those who have purchased them, if possible. From you,
Rousselet, he will claim the meadows upon the Oiselle, which always
yield two crops; from you, Father Gauchais, the ground upon which
the Croix-Brulee stands; from you, Chanlouineau, the vineyards on the
Borderie----\x94

Chanlouineau was the impetuous young man who had interrupted Father
Chupin twice already.

\x93Claim the Borderie!\x94 he exclaimed, with even greater violence; \x93let
him try, and we will see. It was waste land when my father bought
it--covered with briers; even a goat could not have found pasture there.
We have cleared it of stones, we have scratched up the soil with our
very nails, we have watered it with our sweat, and now they would try to
take it from us! Ah! they shall have my last drop of blood first!\x94

\x93I do not say but----\x94

\x93But what? Is it any fault of ours that the nobles fled to foreign
lands? We have not stolen their lands, have we? The government offered
them for sale; we bought them, and paid for them; they are lawfully
ours.\x94

\x93That is true; but Monsieur de Sairmeuse is the great friend of the
king.\x94

The young soldier, whose voice had aroused the most noble sentiments
only a moment before, was forgotten.

Invaded France, the threatening enemy, were alike forgotten. The
all-powerful instinct of avarice was suddenly aroused.

\x93In my opinion,\x94 resumed Chanlouineau, \x93we should do well to consult the
Baron d\x92Escorval.\x94

\x93Yes, yes!\x94 exclaimed the peasants; \x93let us go at once!\x94

They were starting, when a villager who sometimes read the papers,
checked them by saying:

\x93Take care what you do. Do you not know that since the return of the
Bourbons Monsieur d\x92Escorval is of no account whatever? Fouche has him
upon the proscription list, and he is under the surveillance of the
police.\x94

This objection dampened the enthusiasm.

\x93That is true,\x94 murmured some of the older men; \x93a visit to Monsieur
d\x92Escorval would, perhaps, do us more harm than good. And, besides, what
advice could he give us?\x94

Chanlouineau had forgotten all prudence.

\x93What of that?\x94 he exclaimed. \x93If Monsieur d\x92Escorval has no counsel to
give us about this matter, he can, perhaps, teach us how to resist and
to defend ourselves.\x94

For some moments Father Chupin had been studying, with an impassive
countenance, the storm of anger he had aroused. In his secret heart
he experienced the satisfaction of the incendiary at the sight of the
flames he has kindled.

Perhaps he already had a presentiment of the infamous part he would play
a few months later.

Satisfied with his experiment, he assumed, for the time, the role of
moderator.

\x93Wait a little. Do not cry before you are hurt,\x94 he exclaimed, in an
ironical tone. \x93Who told you that the Duc de Sairmeuse would trouble
you? How much of his former domain do you all own between you? Almost
nothing. A few fields and meadows and a hill on the Borderie. All these
together did not in former times yield him an income of five thousand
francs a year.\x94

\x93Yes, that is true,\x94 replied Chanlouineau; \x93and if the revenue you
mention is quadrupled, it is only because the land is now in the hands
of forty proprietors who cultivate it themselves.\x94

\x93Another reason why the duke will not say a word; he will not wish to
set the whole district in commotion. In my opinion, he will dispossess
only one of the owners of his former estates, and that is our worthy
ex-mayor--Monsieur Lacheneur, in short.\x94

Ah! he knew only too well the egotism of his compatriots. He knew with
what complacency and eagerness they would accept an expiatory victim
whose sacrifice should be their salvation.

\x93That is a fact,\x94 remarked an old man; \x93Monsieur Lacheneur owns nearly
all the Sairmeuse property.\x94

\x93Say all, while you are about it,\x94 rejoined Father Chupin. \x93Where does
Monsieur Lacheneur live? In that beautiful Chateau de Sairmeuse whose
gable we can see there through the trees. He hunts in the forests which
once belonged to the Ducs de Sairmeuse; he fishes in their lakes; he
drives the horses which once belonged to them, in the carriages upon
which one could now see their coat-of-arms, if it had not been painted
out.

\x93Twenty years ago, Lacheneur was a poor devil like myself; now, he is a
grand gentleman with fifty thousand livres a year. He wears the finest
broadcloth and top-boots like the Baron d\x92Escorval. He no longer works;
he makes others work; and when he passes, everyone must bow to the
earth. If you kill so much as a sparrow upon his lands, as he says, he
will cast you into prison. Ah, he has been fortunate. The emperor made
him mayor. The Bourbons deprived him of his office; but what does that
matter to him? He is still the real master here, as the Sairmeuse were
in other days. His son is pursuing his studies in Paris, intending to
become a notary. As for his daughter, Mademoiselle Marie-Anne--\x94

\x93Not a word against her!\x94 exclaimed Chanlouineau; \x93if she were mistress,
there would not be a poor man in the country; and yet, how some of her
pensioners abuse her bounty. Ask your wife if this is not so, Father
Chupin.\x94

Undoubtedly the impetuous young man spoke at the peril of his life.

But the wicked old Chupin swallowed this affront which he would never
forget, and humbly continued:

\x93I do not say that Mademoiselle Marie-Anne is not generous; but after
all her charitable work she has plenty of money left for her fine
dresses and her fallals. I think that Monsieur Lacheneur ought to
be very well content, even after he has restored to its former owner
one-half or even three-quarters of the property he has acquired--no one
can tell how. He would have enough left then to grind the poor under
foot.\x94

After his appeal to selfishness, Father Chupin appealed to envy. There
could be no doubt of his success.

But he had not time to pursue his advantage. The services were over, and
the worshippers were leaving the church.

Soon there appeared upon the porch the man in question, with a young
girl of dazzling beauty leaning upon his arm.

Father Chupin walked straight toward him, and brusquely delivered his
message.

M. Lacheneur staggered beneath the blow. He turned first so red, then so
frightfully pale, that those around him thought he was about to fall.

But he quickly recovered his self-possession, and without a word to the
messenger, he walked rapidly away, leading his daughter.

Some minutes later an old post-chaise, drawn by four horses, dashed
through the village at a gallop, and paused before the house of the
village cure.

Then one might have witnessed a singular spectacle.

Father Chupin had gathered his wife and his children together, and the
four surrounded the carriage, shouting, with all the power of their
lungs:

\x93Long live the Duc de Sairmeuse!\x94



CHAPTER II

A gently ascending road, more than two miles in length, shaded by a
quadruple row of venerable elms, led from the village to the Chateau de
Sairmeuse.

Nothing could be more beautiful than this avenue, a fit approach to a
palace; and the stranger who beheld it could understand the naively vain
proverb of the country: \x93He does not know the real beauty of France, who
has never seen Sairmeuse nor the Oiselle.\x94

The Oiselle is the little river which one crosses by means of a wooden
bridge on leaving the village, and whose clear and rapid waters give a
delicious freshness to the valley.

At every step, as one ascends, the view changes. It is as if an
enchanting panorama were being slowly unrolled before one.

On the right you can see the saw-mills of Fereol. On the left, like an
ocean of verdure, the forest of Dolomien trembles in the breeze. Those
imposing ruins on the other side of the river are all that remain of
the feudal manor of the house of Breulh. That red brick mansion, with
granite trimmings, half concealed by a bend in the river, belongs to the
Baron d\x92Escorval.

And, if the day is clear, one can easily distinguish the spires of
Montaignac in the distance.

This was the path traversed by M. Lacheneur after Chupin had delivered
his message.

But what did he care for the beauties of the landscape!

Upon the church porch he had received his death-wound; and now, with a
tottering and dragging step, he dragged himself along like one of those
poor soldiers, mortally wounded upon the field of battle, who go back,
seeking a ditch or quiet spot where they can lie down and die.

He seemed to have lost all thought of his surroundings--all
consciousness of previous events. He pursued his way, lost in his
reflections, guided only by force of habit.

Two or three times his daughter, Marie-Anne, who was walking by his
side, addressed him; but an \x93Ah! let me alone!\x94 uttered in a harsh tone,
was the only response she could draw from him.

Evidently he had received a terrible blow; and undoubtedly, as often
happens under such circumstances, the unfortunate man was reviewing all
the different phases of his life.

At twenty Lacheneur was only a poor ploughboy in the service of the
Sairmeuse family.

His ambition was modest then. When stretched beneath a tree at the hour
of noonday rest, his dreams were as simple as those of an infant.

\x93If I could but amass a hundred pistoles,\x94 he thought, \x93I would ask
Father Barrois for the hand of his daughter Martha; and he would not
refuse me.\x94 A hundred pistoles! A thousand francs!--an enormous sum
for him who, in two years of toil and privation had only laid by eleven
louis, which he had placed carefully in a tiny box and hidden in the
depths of his straw mattress.

Still he did not despair. He had read in Martha\x92s eyes that she would
wait.

And Mlle. Armande de Sairmeuse, a rich old maid, was his god-mother;
and he thought, if he attacked her adroitly, that he might, perhaps,
interest her in his love-affair.

Then the terrible storm of the revolution burst over France.

With the fall of the first thunder-bolts, the Duke of Sairmeuse left
France with the Count d\x92Artois. They took refuge in foreign lands as
a passer-by seeks shelter in a doorway from a summer shower, saying to
himself: \x93This will not last long.\x94

The storm did last, however; and the following year Mlle. Armande, who
had remained at Sairmeuse, died.

The chateau was then closed, the president of the district took
possession of the keys in the name of the government, and the servants
were scattered.

Lacheneur took up his residence in Montaignac.

Young, daring, and personally attractive, blessed with an energetic
face, and an intelligence far above his station, it was not long before
he became well known in the political clubs.

For three months Lacheneur was the tyrant of Montaignac.

But this metier of public speaker is by no means lucrative, so the
surprise throughout the district was immense, when it was ascertained
that the former ploughboy had purchased the chateau, and almost all the
land belonging to his old master.

It is true that the nation had sold this princely domain for scarcely
a twentieth part of its real value. The appraisement was sixty-nine
thousand francs. It was giving the property away.

And yet, it was necessary to have this amount, and Lacheneur possessed
it, since he had poured it in a flood of beautiful louis d\x92or into the
hands of the receiver of the district.

From that moment his popularity waned. The patriots who had applauded
the ploughboy, cursed the capitalist. He discreetly left them to recover
from their rage as best they could, and returned to Sairmeuse. There
everyone bowed low before Citoyen Lacheneur.

Unlike most people, he did not forget his past hopes at the moment when
they might be realized.

He married Martha Barrois, and, leaving the country to work out its
own salvation without his assistance, he gave his time and attention to
agriculture.

Any close observer, in those days, would have felt certain that the man
was bewildered by the sudden change in his situation.

His manner was so troubled and anxious that one, to see him, would
have supposed him a servant in constant fear of being detected in some
indiscretion.

He did not open the chateau, but installed himself and his young wife in
the cottage formerly occupied by the head game-keeper, near the entrance
of the park.

But, little by little, with the habit of possession, came assurance.

The Consulate had succeeded the Directory, the Empire succeeded the
Consulate, Citoyen Lacheneur became M. Lacheneur.

Appointed mayor two years later, he left the cottage and took possession
of the chateau.

The former ploughboy slumbered in the bed of the Ducs de Sairmeuse; he
ate from the massive plate, graven with their coat-of-arms; he received
his visitors in the magnificent salon in which the Ducs de Sairmeuse had
received their friends in years gone by.

To those who had known him in former days, M. Lacheneur had become
unrecognizable. He had adapted himself to his lofty station. Blushing
at his own ignorance; he had found the courage--wonderful in one of his
age--to acquire the education which he lacked.

Then, all his undertakings were successful to such a degree that
his good fortune had become proverbial. That he took any part in an
enterprise, sufficed to make it turn out well.

His wife had given him two lovely children, a son and a daughter.

His property, managed with a shrewdness and sagacity which the former
owners had not possessed, yielded him an income of at least sixty
thousand francs.

How many, under similar circumstances, would have lost their heads! But
he, M. Lacheneur, had been wise enough to retain his _sang-froid_.

In spite of the princely luxury that surrounded him, his own habits were
simple and frugal. He had never had an attendant for his own person. His
large income he consecrated almost entirely to the improvement of his
estate or to the purchase of more land. And yet, he was not avaricious.
In all that concerned his wife or children, he did not count the cost.
His son, Jean, had been educated in Paris; he wished him to be fitted
for any position. Unwilling to consent to a separation from his
daughter, he had procured a governess to take charge of her education.

Sometimes his friends accused him of an inordinate ambition for his
children; but he always shook his head sadly, as he replied:

\x93If _I_ can only insure them a modest and comfortable future! But what
folly it is to count upon the future. Thirty years ago, who could have
foreseen that the Sairmeuse family would be deprived of their estates?\x94

With such opinions he should have been a good master; he was, but no one
thought the better of him on that account. His former comrades could not
forgive him for his sudden elevation.

They seldom spoke of him without wishing his ruin in ambiguous words.

Alas! the evil days came. Toward the close of the year 1812, he lost his
wife, the disasters of the year 1813 swept away a large portion of his
personal fortune, which had been invested in a manufacturing enterprise.

Compromised by the first Restoration, he was obliged to conceal himself
for a time; and to cap the climax, the conduct of his son, who was still
in Paris, caused him serious disquietude.

Only the evening before, he had thought himself the most unfortunate of
men.

But here was another misfortune menacing him; a misfortune so terrible
that all the others were forgotten.

From the day on which he had purchased Sairmeuse to this fatal Sunday in
August, 1815, was an interval of twenty years.

Twenty years! And it seemed to him only yesterday that, blushing and
trembling, he had laid those piles of louis d\x92or upon the desk of the
receiver of the district.

Had he dreamed it?

He had not dreamed it. His entire life, with its struggles and its
miseries, its hopes and its fears, its unexpected joys and its blighted
hopes, all passed before him.

Lost in these memories, he had quite forgotten the present situation,
when a commonplace incident, more powerful than the voice of his
daughter, brought him back to the terrible reality. The gate leading to
the Chateau de Sairmeuse, to _his_ chateau, was found to be locked.

He shook it with a sort of rage; and, being unable to break the
fastening, he found some relief in breaking the bell.

On hearing the noise, the gardener came running to the scene of action.

\x93Why is this gate closed?\x94 demanded M. Lacheneur, with unwonted violence
of manner. \x93By what right do you barricade my house when I, the master,
am without?\x94

The gardener tried to make some excuse.

\x93Hold your tongue!\x94 interrupted M. Lacheneur. \x93I dismiss you; you are no
longer in my service.\x94

He passed on, leaving the gardener petrified with astonishment, crossed
the court-yard--a court-yard worthy of the mansion, bordered with velvet
turf, with flowers, and with dense shrubbery.

In the vestibule, inlaid with marble, three of his tenants sat awaiting
him, for it was on Sunday that he always received the workmen who
desired to confer with him.

They rose at his approach, and removed their hats deferentially. But he
did not give them time to utter a word.

\x93Who permitted you to enter here?\x94 he said, savagely, \x93and what do you
desire? They sent you to play the spy on me, did they? Leave, I tell
you!\x94

The three farmers were even more bewildered and dismayed than the
gardener had been, and their remarks must have been interesting.

But M. Lacheneur could not hear them. He had opened the door of the
grand salon, and dashed in, followed by his frightened daughter.

Never had Marie-Anne seen her father in such a mood; and she trembled,
her heart torn by the most frightful presentiments.

She had heard it said that oftentimes, under the influence of some dire
calamity, unfortunate men have suddenly lost their reason entirely; and
she was wondering if her father had become insane.

It would seem, indeed, that such was the case. His eyes flashed,
convulsive shudders shook his whole body, a white foam gathered on his
lips.

He made the circuit of the room as a wild beast makes the circuit of his
cage, uttering harsh imprecations and making frenzied gestures.

His actions were strange, incomprehensible. Sometimes he seemed to be
trying the thickness of the carpet with the toe of his boot; sometimes
he threw himself upon a sofa or a chair, as if to test its softness.

Occasionally, he paused abruptly before some one of the valuable
pictures that covered the walls, or before a bronze. One might have
supposed that he was taking an inventory, and appraising all the
magnificent and costly articles which decorated this apartment, the most
sumptuous in the chateau.

\x93And I must renounce all this!\x94 he exclaimed, at last.

These words explained everything.

\x93No, never!\x94 he resumed, in a transport of rage; \x93never! never! I
cannot! I will not!\x94

Now Marie-Anne understood it all. But what was passing in her father\x92s
mind? She wished to know; and, leaving the low chair in which she had
been seated, she went to her father\x92s side.

\x93Are you ill, father?\x94 she asked, in her sweet voice; \x93what is the
matter? What do you fear? Why do you not confide in me?--Am I not your
daughter? Do you no longer love me?\x94

At the sound of this dear voice, M. Lacheneur trembled like a sleeper
suddenly aroused from the terrors of a nightmare, and he cast an
indescribable glance upon his daughter.

\x93Did you not hear what Chupin said to me?\x94 he replied, slowly. \x93The Duc
de Sairmeuse is at Montaignac; he will soon be here; and we are dwelling
in the chateau of his fathers, and his domain has become ours!\x94

The vexed question regarding the national lands, which agitated France
for thirty years, Marie understood, for she had heard it discussed a
thousand times.

\x93Ah, well, dear father,\x94 said she, \x93what does that matter, even if we do
hold the property? You have bought it and paid for it, have you not? So
it is rightfully and lawfully ours.\x94

M. Lacheneur hesitated a moment before replying.

But his secret suffocated him. He was in one of those crises in which a
man, however strong he may be, totters and seeks some support, however
fragile.

\x93You would be right, my daughter,\x94 he murmured, with drooping head, \x93if
the money that I gave in exchange for Sairmeuse had really belonged to
me.\x94

At this strange avowal the young girl turned pale and recoiled a step.

\x93What?\x94 she faltered; \x93this gold was not yours, my father? To whom did
it belong? From whence did it come?\x94

The unhappy man had gone too far to retract.

\x93I will tell you all, my daughter,\x94 he replied, \x93and you shall judge.
You shall decide. When the Sairmeuse family fled from France, I had only
my hands to depend upon, and as it was almost impossible to obtain work,
I wondered if starvation were not near at hand.

\x93Such was my condition when someone came after me one evening to tell
me that Mademoiselle Armande de Sairmeuse, my godmother, was dying, and
wished to speak with me. I ran to the chateau.

\x93The messenger had told the truth. Mademoiselle Armande was sick unto
death. I felt this on seeing her upon her bed, whiter than wax.

\x93Ah! if I were to live a hundred years, never should I forget her face
as it looked at that moment. It was expressive of a strength of will and
an energy that would hold death at bay until the task upon which she had
determined was performed.

\x93When I entered the room I saw a look of relief appear upon her
countenance.

\x93\x91How long you were in coming!\x92 she murmured faintly.

\x93I was about to make some excuse, when she motioned me to pause, and
ordered the women who surrounded her to leave the room.

\x93As soon as we were alone:

\x93\x91You are an honest boy,\x92, said she, \x91and I am about to give you a proof
of my confidence. People believe me to be poor, but they are mistaken.
While my relatives were gayly ruining themselves, I was saving the five
hundred louis which the duke, my brother, gave me each year.\x92

\x93She motioned me to come nearer, and to kneel beside her bed.

\x93I obeyed, and Mademoiselle Armande leaned toward me, almost glued her
lips to my ear, and added:

\x93\x91I possess eighty thousand francs.\x92

\x93I felt a sudden giddiness, but my godmother did not notice it.

\x93\x91This amount,\x92 she continued, \x91is not a quarter part of the former
income from our family estates. But now, who knows but it will, one day,
be the only resource of the Sairmeuse? I am going to place it in your
charge, Lacheneur. I confide it to your honor and to your devotion. The
estates belonging to the emigrants are to be sold, I hear. If such an
act of injustice is committed, you will probably be able to purchase
our property for seventy thousand francs. If the property is sold by the
government, purchase it; if the lands belonging to the emigrants are not
sold, take that amount to the duke, my brother, who is with the
Count d\x92Artois. The surplus, that is to say, the ten thousand francs
remaining, I give to you--they are yours.\x92

\x93She seemed to recover her strength. She raised herself in bed, and,
holding the crucifix attached to her rosary to my lips, she said:

\x93\x91Swear by the image of our Saviour, that you will faithfully execute
the last will of your dying godmother.\x92

\x93I took the required oath, and an expression of satisfaction overspread
her features.

\x93\x91That is well,\x92 she said; \x91I shall die content. You will have a
protector on high. But this is not all. In times like these in which we
live, this gold will not be safe in your hands unless those about you
are ignorant that you possess it. I have been endeavoring to discover
some way by which you could remove it from my room, and from the
chateau, without the knowledge of anyone; and I have found a way. The
gold is here in this cupboard, at the head of my bed, in a stout oaken
chest. You must find strength to move the chest--you must. You can
fasten a sheet around it and let it down gently from the window into the
garden. You will then leave the house as you entered it, and as soon as
you are outside, you must take the chest and carry it to your home. The
night is very dark, and no one will see you, if you are careful. But
make haste; my strength is nearly gone.\x92

\x93The chest was heavy, but I was very strong.

\x93In less than ten minutes the task of removing the chest from the
chateau was accomplished, without a single sound that would betray us.
As I closed the window, I said:

\x93\x91It is done, godmother.\x92

\x93\x91God be praised!\x92 she whispered; \x91Sairmeuse is saved!\x92

\x93I heard a deep sigh. I turned; she was dead.\x94

This scene that M. Lacheneur was relating rose vividly before him.

To feign, to disguise the truth, or to conceal any portion of it was an
impossibility.

He forgot himself and his daughter; he thought only of the dead woman,
of Mlle. Armande de Sairmeuse.

And he shuddered on pronouncing the words: \x93She was dead.\x94 It seemed to
him that she was about to speak, and to insist upon the fulfilment of
his pledge.

After a moment\x92s silence, he resumed, in a hollow voice:

\x93I called for aid; it came. Mademoiselle Armande was adored by everyone;
there was great lamentation, and a half hour of indescribable confusion
followed her death. I was able to withdraw, unnoticed, to run into
the garden, and to carry away the oaken chest. An hour later, it was
concealed in the miserable hovel in which I dwelt. The following year I
purchased Sairmeuse.\x94

He had confessed all; and he paused, trembling, trying to read his
sentence in the eyes of his daughter.

\x93And can you hesitate?\x94 she demanded.

\x93Ah! you do not know----\x94

\x93I know that Sairmeuse must be given up.\x94

This was the decree of his own conscience, that faint voice which speaks
only in a whisper, but which all the tumult on earth cannot overpower.

\x93No one saw me take away the chest,\x94 he faltered. \x93If anyone suspected
it, there is not a single proof against me. But no one does suspect it.\x94

Marie-Anne rose, her eyes flashed with generous indignation.

\x93My father!\x94 she exclaimed; \x93oh! my father!\x94

Then, in a calmer tone, she added:

\x93If others know nothing of this, can _you_ forget it?\x94

M. Lacheneur appeared almost ready to succumb to the torture of the
terrible conflict raging in his soul.

\x93Return!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93What shall I return? That which I have
received? So be it. I consent. I will give the duke the eighty thousand
francs; to this amount I will add the interest on this sum since I have
had it, and--we shall be free of all obligation.\x94

The girl sadly shook her head.

\x93Why do you resort to subterfuges which are so unworthy of you?\x94 she
asked, gently. \x93You know perfectly well that it was Sairmeuse which
Mademoiselle Armande intended to intrust to the servant of her house.
And it is Sairmeuse which must be returned.\x94

The word \x93servant\x94 was revolting to a man, who, at least, while the
empire endured, had been a power in the land.

\x93Ah! you are cruel, my daughter,\x94 he said, with intense bitterness; \x93as
cruel as a child who has never suffered--as cruel as one who, having
never himself been tempted, is without mercy for those who have yielded
to temptation.

\x93It is one of those acts which God alone can judge, since God alone can
read the depths of one\x92s secret soul.

\x93I am only a depositary, you tell me. It was, indeed, in this light that
I formerly regarded myself.

\x93If your poor sainted mother was still alive, she would tell you the
anxiety and anguish I felt on being made the master of riches which
were not mine. I trembled lest I should yield to their seductions; I was
afraid of myself. I felt as a gambler might feel who had the winnings
of others confided to his care; as a drunkard might feel who had been
placed in charge of a quantity of the most delicious wines.

\x93Your mother would tell you that I moved heaven and earth to find the
Duc de Sairmeuse. But he had left the Count d\x92Artois, and no one knew
where he had gone or what had become of him. Ten years passed before
I could make up my mind to inhabit the chateau--yes, ten years--during
which I had the furniture dusted each morning as if the master was to
return that evening.

\x93At last I ventured. I had heard Monsieur d\x92Escorval declare that the
duke had been killed in battle. I took up my abode here. And from day to
day, in proportion as the domain of Sairmeuse became more beautiful
and extensive beneath my care, I felt myself more and more its rightful
owner.\x94

But this despairing pleading in behalf of a bad cause produced no
impression upon Marie-Anne\x92s loyal heart.

\x93Restitution must be made,\x94 she repeated. M. Lacheneur wrung his hands.

\x93Implacable!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93she is implacable. Unfortunate girl! does
she not understand that it is for her sake I wish to remain where I
am? I am old, and I am familiar with toil and poverty; idleness has
not removed the callosities from my hands. What do I require to keep me
alive until the day comes for me to take my place in the graveyard? A
crust of bread and an onion in the morning, a porringer of soup in the
evening, and for the night a bundle of straw. I could easily earn that.
But you, unhappy child! and your brother, what will become of you?\x94

\x93We must not discuss nor haggle with duty, my father. I think, however,
that you are needlessly alarmed. I believe the duke is too noble-hearted
ever to allow you to suffer want after the immense service you have
rendered him.\x94

The old servitor of the house of Sairmeuse laughed a loud, bitter laugh.

\x93You believe that!\x94 said he; \x93then you do not know the nobles who have
been our masters for ages. \x91A., you are a worthy fellow!\x92--very coldly
said--will be the only recompense I shall receive; and you will see us,
me, at my plough; you, out at service. And if I venture to speak of
the ten thousand francs that were given me, I shall be treated as an
impostor, as an impudent fool. By the holy name of God this shall not
be!\x94

\x93Oh, my father!\x94

\x93No! this shall not be. And I realize--as you cannot realize--the
disgrace of such a fall. You think you are beloved in Sairmeuse? You are
mistaken. We have been too fortunate not to be the victims of hatred and
jealousy. If I fall to-morrow, you will see all who kissed your hands
to-day fall upon you to tear you to pieces!\x94

His eye glittered; he believed he had found a victorious argument.

\x93And then you, yourself, will realize the horror of the disgrace. It
will cost you the deadly anguish of a separation from him whom your
heart has chosen.\x94

He had spoken truly, for Marie-Anne\x92s beautiful eyes filled with tears.

\x93If what you say proves true, father,\x94 she murmured, in an altered
voice, \x93I may, perhaps, die of sorrow; but I cannot fail to realize that
my confidence and my love has been misplaced.\x94

\x93And you still insist upon my returning Sairmeuse to its former owner?\x94

\x93Honor speaks, my father.\x94

M. Lacheneur made the arm-chair in which he was seated tremble by a
violent blow of his fist.

\x93And if I am just as obstinate,\x94 he exclaimed--\x93if I keep the
property--what will you do?\x94

\x93I shall say to myself, father, that honest poverty is better than
stolen wealth. I shall leave this chateau, which belongs to the Duc
de Sairmeuse, and I shall seek a situation as a servant in the
neighborhood.\x94

M. Lacheneur sank back in his arm-chair sobbing. He knew his daughter\x92s
nature well enough to be assured that what she said, that she would do.

But he was conquered; his daughter had won the battle. He had decided to
make the heroic sacrifice.

\x93I will relinquish Sairmeuse,\x94 he faltered, \x93come what may----\x94

He paused suddenly; a visitor was entering the room.

It was a young man about twenty years of age, of distinguished
appearance, but with a rather melancholy and gentle manner.

His eyes when he entered the apartment encountered those of Marie-Anne;
he blushed slightly, and the girl half turned away, crimsoning to the
roots of her hair.

\x93Monsieur,\x94 said the young man, \x93my father sends me to inform you that
the Duc de Sairmeuse and his son have just arrived. They have asked the
hospitality of our cure.\x94

M. Lacheneur rose, unable to conceal his frightful agitation.

\x93You will thank the Baron d\x92Escorval for his attention, my dear
Maurice,\x94 he responded. \x93I shall have the honor of seeing him to-day,
after a very momentous step which we are about to take, my daughter and
I.\x94

Young d\x92Escorval had seen, at the first glance, that his presence was
inopportune, so he remained only a few moments.

But as he was taking leave, Marie-Anne found time to say, in a low
voice:

\x93I think I know your heart, Maurice; this evening I shall know it
certainly.\x94



CHAPTER III

Few of the inhabitants of Sairmeuse knew, except by name, the terrible
duke whose arrival had thrown the whole village into commotion.

Some of the oldest residents had a faint recollection of having seen
him long ago, before \x9189 indeed, when he came to visit his aunt, Mlle.
Armande.

His duties, then, had seldom permitted him to leave the court.

If he had given no sign of life during the empire, it was because he had
not been compelled to submit to the humiliations and suffering which so
many of the emigrants were obliged to endure in their exile.

On the contrary, he had received, in exchange for the wealth of which he
had been deprived by the revolution, a princely fortune.

Taking refuge in London after the defeat of the army of Conde, he had
been so fortunate as to please the only daughter of Lord Holland, one of
the richest peers in England, and he had married her.

She possessed a fortune of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds
sterling, more than six million francs.

Still the marriage was not a happy one. The chosen companion of the
dissipated and licentious Count d\x92Artois was not likely to prove a very
good husband.

The young duchess was contemplating a separation when she died,
in giving birth to a boy, who was baptized under the names of
Anne-Marie-Martial.

The loss of his wife did not render the Duc de Sairmeuse inconsolable.

He was free and richer than he had ever been.

As soon as _les convenances_ permitted, he confided his son to the care
of a relative of his wife, and began his roving life again.

Rumor had told the truth. He had fought, and that furiously, against
France in the Austrian, and then in the Russian ranks.

And he took no pains to conceal the fact; convinced that he had only
performed his duty. He considered that he had honestly and loyally
gained the rank of general which the Emperor of all the Russias had
bestowed upon him.

He had not returned to France during the first Restoration; but his
absence had been involuntary. His father-in-law, Lord Holland, had just
died, and the duke was detained in London by business connected with his
son\x92s immense inheritance.

Then followed the \x93Hundred Days.\x94 They exasperated him.

But \x93the good cause,\x94 as he styled it, having triumphed anew, he
hastened to France.

Alas! Lacheneur judged the character of his former master correctly,
when he resisted the entreaties of his daughter.

This man, who had been compelled to conceal himself during the first
Restoration, knew only too well, that the returned _emigres_ had learned
nothing and forgotten nothing.

The Duc de Sairmeuse was no exception to the rule.

He thought, and nothing could be more sadly absurd, that a mere act
of authority would suffice to suppress forever all the events of the
Revolution and of the empire.

When he said: \x93I do not admit that!\x94 he firmly believed that there was
nothing more to be said; that controversy was ended; and that what _had_
been was as if it had never been.

If some, who had seen Louis XVII. at the helm in 1814, assured the duke
that France had changed in many respects since 1789, he responded with a
shrug of the shoulders:

\x93Nonsense! As soon as we assert ourselves, all these rascals, whose
rebellion alarms you, will quietly sink out of sight.\x94

Such was really his opinion.

On the way from Montaignac to Sairmeuse, the duke, comfortably ensconced
in his berlin, unfolded his theories for the benefit of his son.

\x93The King has been poorly advised,\x94 he said, in conclusion. \x93Besides,
I am disposed to believe that he inclines too much to Jacobinism. If
he would listen to my advice, he would make use of the twelve hundred
thousand soldiers which our friends have placed at his disposal, to
bring his subjects to a sense of their duty. Twelve hundred thousand
bayonets have far more eloquence than the articles of a charter.\x94

He continued his remarks on this subject until the carriage approached
Sairmeuse.

Though but little given to sentiment, he was really affected by the
sight of the country in which he was born--where he had played as a
child, and of which he had heard nothing since the death of his aunt.

Everything was changed: still the outlines of the landscape remained the
same; the valley of the Oiselle was as bright and laughing as in days
gone by.

\x93I recognize it!\x94 he exclaimed, with a delight that made him forget
politics. \x93I recognize it!\x94

Soon the changes became more striking.

The carriage entered Sairmeuse, and rattled over the stones of the only
street in the village.

This street, in former years, had been unpaved, and had always been
rendered impassable by wet weather.

\x93Ah, ha!\x94 murmured the duke, \x93this is an improvement!\x94

It was not long before he noticed others. The dilapidated, thatched
hovels had given place to pretty and comfortable white cottages with
green blinds, and a vine hanging gracefully over the door.

As the carriage passed the public square in front of the church, Martial
observed the groups of peasants who were still talking there.

\x93What do you think of all these peasants?\x94 he inquired of his father.
\x93Do they have the appearance of people who are preparing a triumphal
reception for their old masters?\x94

M. de Sairmeuse shrugged his shoulders. He was not the man to renounce
an illusion for such a trifle.

\x93They do not know that I am in this post-chaise,\x94 he replied. \x93When they
know----\x94

Shouts of \x93Vive Monsieur le Duc de Sairmeuse!\x94 interrupted him.

\x93Do you hear that, Marquis?\x94 he exclaimed.

And pleased by these cries that proved him in the right, he leaned from
the carriage-window, waving his hand to the honest Chupin family, who
were running after the vehicle with noisy shouts.

The old rascal, his wife, and his children, all possessed powerful
voices; and it was not strange that the duke believed the whole village
was welcoming him. He was convinced of it; and when the berlin stopped
before the house of the cure, M. de Sairmeuse was persuaded that the
_prestige_ of the nobility was greater than ever.

Upon the threshold of the parsonage, Bibiaine, the old housekeeper, was
standing. She knew who these guests must be, for the cure\x92s servants
always know what is going on.

\x93Monsieur has not yet returned from church,\x94 she said, in response to
the duke\x92s inquiry; \x93but if the gentlemen wish to wait, it will not be
long before he comes, for the poor, dear man has not breakfasted yet.\x94

\x93Let us go in,\x94 the duke said to his son. And guided by the housekeeper,
they entered a sort of drawing-room, where the table was spread.

M. de Sairmeuse took an inventory of the apartment in a single glance.
The habits of a house reveal those of its master. This was clean, poor,
and bare. The walls were whitewashed; a dozen chairs composed the entire
furniture; upon the table, laid with monastic simplicity, were only tin
dishes.

This was either the abode of an ambitious man or a saint.

\x93Will these gentlemen take any refreshments?\x94 inquired Bibiaine.

\x93Upon my word,\x94 replied Martial, \x93I must confess that the drive has
whetted my appetite amazingly.\x94

\x93Blessed Jesus!\x94 exclaimed the old housekeeper, in evident despair.
\x93What am I to do? I, who have nothing! That is to say--yes--I have an
old hen left in the coop. Give me time to wring its neck, to pick it,
and clean it----\x94

She paused to listen, and they heard a step in the passage.

\x93Ah!\x94 she exclaimed, \x93here is Monsieur le Cure now!\x94

The son of a poor farmer in the environs of Montaignac, he owed his
Latin and tonsure to the privations of his family.

Tall, angular, and solemn, he was as cold and impassive as the stones of
his church.

By what immense efforts of will, at the cost of what torture, had he
made himself what he was? One could form some idea of the terrible
restraint to which he had subjected himself by looking at his eyes,
which occasionally emitted the lightnings of an impassioned soul.

Was he old or young? The most subtle observer would have hesitated to
say on seeing this pallid and emaciated face, cut in two by an immense
nose--a real eagle\x92s beak--as thin as the edge of a razor.

He wore a white cassock, which had been patched and darned in numberless
places, but which was a marvel of cleanliness, and which hung about his
tall, attenuated body like the sails of a disabled vessel.

He was known as the Abbe Midon.

At the sight of the two strangers seated in his drawing-room, he
manifested some slight surprise.

The carriage standing before the door had announced the presence of a
visitor; but he had expected to find one of his parishioners.

No one had warned him or the sacristan, and he was wondering with whom
he had to deal, and what they desired of him.

Mechanically, he turned to Bibiaine, but the old servant had taken
flight.

The duke understood his host\x92s astonishment.

\x93Upon my word, Abbe!\x94 he said, with the impertinent ease of a _grand
seigneur_ who makes himself at home everywhere, \x93we have taken your
house by storm, and hold the position, as you see. I am the Duc de
Sairmeuse, and this is my son, the Marquis.\x94

The priest bowed, but he did not seem very greatly impressed by the
exalted rank of his guests.

\x93It is a great honor for me,\x94 he replied, in a more than reserved tone,
\x93to receive a visit from the former master of this place.\x94

He emphasized this word \x93former\x94 in such a manner that it was impossible
to doubt his sentiments and his opinions.

\x93Unfortunately,\x94 he continued, \x93you will not find here the comforts to
which you are accustomed, and I fear----\x94

\x93Nonsense!\x94 interrupted the duke. \x93An old soldier is not fastidious,
and what suffices for you, Monsieur Abbe, will suffice for us. And rest
assured that we shall amply repay you in one way or another for any
inconvenience we may cause you.\x94

The priest\x92s eye flashed. This want of tact, this disagreeable
familiarity, this last insulting remark, kindled the anger of the man
concealed beneath the priest.

\x93Besides,\x94 added Martial, gayly, \x93we have been vastly amused by
Bibiaine\x92s anxieties, we already know that there is a chicken in the
coop----\x94

\x93That is to say there was one, Monsieur le Marquis.\x94

The old housekeeper, who suddenly reappeared, explained her master\x92s
response. She seemed overwhelmed with despair.

\x93Blessed Virgin! Monsieur, what shall I do?\x94 she clamored. \x93The chicken
has disappeared. Someone has certainly stolen it, for the coop is
securely closed!\x94

\x93Do not accuse your neighbor hastily,\x94 interrupted the cure; \x93no one has
stolen it from us. Bertrande was here this morning to ask alms in the
name of her sick daughter. I had no money, and I gave her this fowl that
she might make a good bouillon for the sick girl.\x94

This explanation changed Bibiaine\x92s consternation to fury.

Planting herself in the centre of the room, one hand upon her hip, and
gesticulating wildly with the other, she exclaimed, pointing to her
master:

\x93That is just the sort of man he is; he has less sense than a baby! Any
miserable peasant who meets him can make him believe anything he wishes.
Any great falsehood brings tears to his eyes, and then they can do what
they like with him. In that way they take the very shoes off his feet
and the bread from his mouth. Bertrande\x92s daughter, messieurs, is no
more ill than you or I!\x94

\x93Enough,\x94 said the priest, sternly, \x93enough.\x94 Then, knowing by
experience that his voice had not the power to check her flood of
reproaches, he took her by the arm and led her out into the passage.

M. de Sairmeuse and his son exchanged a glance of consternation.

Was this a comedy that had been prepared for their benefit? Evidently
not, since their arrival had not been expected.

But the priest, whose character had been so plainly revealed by this
quarrel with his domestic, was not a man to their taste.

At least, he was evidently not the man they had hoped to find--not the
auxiliary whose assistance was indispensable to the success of their
plans.

Yet they did not exchange a word; they listened.

They heard the sound as of a discussion in the passage. The master spoke
in low tones, but with an unmistakable accent of command; the servant
uttered an astonished exclamation.

But the listeners could not distinguish a word.

Soon the priest re-entered the apartment.

\x93I hope, gentlemen,\x94 he said, with a dignity that could not fail to
check any attempt at raillery, \x93that you will excuse this ridiculous
scene. The cure of Sairmeuse, thank God! is not so poor as she says.\x94

Neither the duke nor Martial made any response.

Even their remarkable assurance was very sensibly diminished; and M. de
Sairmeuse deemed it advisable to change the subject.

This he did, by relating the events which he had just witnessed in
Paris, and by insisting that His Majesty, Louis XVIII., had been
welcomed with enthusiasm and transports of affection.

Fortunately, the old housekeeper interrupted this recital.

She entered, loaded with china, silver, and bottles, and behind her came
a large man in a white apron, bearing three or four covered dishes in
his hands.

It was the order to go and obtain this repast from the village inn which
had drawn from Bibiaine so many exclamations of wonder and dismay in the
passage.

A moment later the cure and his guests took their places at the table.

Had the much-lamented chicken constituted the dinner the rations would
have been \x93short.\x94 This the worthy woman was obliged to confess, on
seeing the terrible appetite evinced by M. de Sairmeuse and his son.

\x93One would have sworn that they had eaten nothing for a fortnight,\x94 she
told her friends, the next day.

Abbe Midon was not hungry, though it was two o\x92clock, and he had eaten
nothing since the previous evening.

The sudden arrival of the former masters of Sairmeuse filled his
heart with gloomy forebodings. Their coming, he believed, presaged the
greatest misfortunes.

So while he played with his knife and fork, pretending to eat, he was
really occupied in watching his guests, and in studying them with
all the penetration of a priest, which, by the way, is generally far
superior to that of a physician or of a magistrate.

The Duc de Sairmeuse was fifty-seven, but looked considerably younger.

The storms of his youth, the dissipation of his riper years, the great
excesses of every kind in which he had indulged, had not impaired his
iron constitution in the least.

Of herculean build, he was extremely proud of his strength, and of his
hands, which were well-formed, but large, firmly knit and powerful, such
hands as rightly belonged to a gentleman whose ancestors had given many
a crushing blow with ponderous battle-axe in the crusades.

His face revealed his character. He possessed all the graces and all the
vices of a courtier.

He was, at the same time _spirituel_ and ignorant, sceptical and
violently imbued with the prejudices of his class.

Though less robust than his father, Martial was a no less
distinguished-looking cavalier. It was not strange that women raved over
his blue eyes, and the beautiful blond hair which he inherited from his
mother.

To his father he owed energy, courage, and, it must also be added,
perversity. But he was his superior in education and in intellect. If he
shared his father\x92s prejudices, he had not adopted them without weighing
them carefully. What the father might do in a moment of excitement, the
son was capable of doing in cold blood.

It was thus that the abbe, with rare sagacity, read the character of his
guests.

So it was with great sorrow, but without surprise, that he heard the
duke advance, on the questions of the day, the impossible ideas shared
by nearly all the _emigres_.

Knowing the condition of the country, and the state of public opinion,
the cure endeavored to convince the obstinate man of his mistake; but
upon this subject the duke would not permit contradiction, or even
raillery; and he was fast losing his temper, when Bibiaine appeared at
the parlor door.

\x93Monsieur le Duc,\x94 said she, \x93Monsieur Lacheneur and his daughter are
without and desire to speak to you.\x94



CHAPTER IV.

This name Lacheneur awakened no recollection in the mind of the duke.

First, he had never lived at Sairmeuse.

And even if he had, what courtier of the _ancien regime_ ever troubled
himself about the individual names of the peasants, whom he regarded
with such profound indifference.

When a _grand seigneur_ addressed these people, he said: \x93Halloo! hi,
there! friend, my worthy fellow!\x94

So it was with the air of a man who is making an effort of memory that
the Duc de Sairmeuse repeated:

\x93Lacheneur--Monsieur Lacheneur----\x94

But Martial, a closer observer than his father, had noticed that the
priest\x92s glance wavered at the sound of this name.

\x93Who is this person, Abbe?\x94 demanded the duke, lightly.

\x93Monsieur Lacheneur,\x94 replied the priest, with very evident hesitation,
\x93is the present owner of the Chateau de Sairmeuse.\x94

Martial, the precocious diplomat, could not repress a smile on hearing
this response, which he had foreseen. But the duke bounded from his
chair.

\x93Ah!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93it is the rascal who has had the impudence--Let him
come in, old woman, let him come in.\x94

Bibiaine retired, and the priest\x92s uneasiness increased.

\x93Permit me, Monsieur le Duc,\x94 he said, hastily, \x93to remark that Monsieur
Lacheneur exercises a great influence in this region--to offend him
would be impolitic----\x94

\x93I understand--you advise me to be conciliatory. Such sentiments are
purely Jacobin. If His Majesty listens to the advice of such as you,
all these sales of confiscated estates will be ratified. Zounds! our
interests are the same. If the Revolution has deprived the nobility of
their property, it has also impoverished the clergy.\x94

\x93The possessions of a priest are not of this world, Monsieur,\x94 said the
cure, coldly.

M. de Sairmeuse was about to make some impertinent response, when M.
Lacheneur appeared, followed by his daughter.

The wretched man was ghastly pale, great drops of perspiration stood out
upon his temples, his restless, haggard eyes revealed his distress of
mind.

Marie-Anne was as pale as her father, but her attitude and the light
that burned in her eyes told of invincible energy and determination.

\x93Ah, well! friend,\x94 said the duke, \x93so we are the owner of Sairmeuse, it
seems.\x94

This was said with such a careless insolence of manner that the cure
blushed that they should thus treat, in his own house, a man whom he
considered his equal.

He rose and offered the visitors chairs.

\x93Will you take a seat, dear Monsieur Lacheneur?\x94 said he, with
a politeness intended as a lesson for the duke; \x93and you, also,
Mademoiselle, do me the honor----\x94

But the father and the daughter both refused the proffered civility with
a motion of the head.

\x93Monsieur le Duc,\x94 continued Lacheneur, \x93I am an old servant of your
house----\x94

\x93Ah! indeed!\x94

\x93Mademoiselle Armande, your aunt, accorded my poor mother the honor of
acting as my godmother----\x94

\x93Ah, yes,\x94 interrupted the duke. \x93I remember you now. Our family
has shown great goodness to you and yours. And it was to prove your
gratitude, probably, that you made haste to purchase our estate!\x94

The former ploughboy was of humble origin, but his heart and his
character had developed with his fortunes; he understood his own worth.

Much as he was disliked, and even detested, by his neighbors, everyone
respected him.

And here was a man who treated him with undisguised scorn. Why? By what
right?

Indignant at the outrage, he made a movement as if to retire.

No one, save his daughter, knew the truth; he had only to keep silence
and Sairmeuse remained his.

Yes, he had still the power to keep Sairmeuse, and he knew it, for
he did not share the fears of the ignorant rustics. He was too well
informed not to be able to distinguish between the hopes of the
_emigres_ and the possible. He knew that an abyss separated the dream
from the reality.

A beseeching word uttered in a low tone by his daughter, made him turn
again to the duke.

\x93If I purchased Sairmeuse,\x94 he answered, in a voice husky with emotion,
\x93it was in obedience to the command of your dying aunt, and with the
money which she gave me for that purpose. If you see me here, it is only
because I come to restore to you the deposit confided to my keeping.\x94

Anyone not belonging to that class of spoiled fools which surround a
throne would have been deeply touched.

But the duke thought this grand act of honesty and of generosity the
most simple and natural thing in the world.

\x93That is very well, so far as the principal is concerned,\x94 said he. \x93Let
us speak now of the interest. Sairmeuse, if I remember rightly, yielded
an average income of one thousand louis per year. These revenues, well
invested, should have amounted to a very considerable amount. Where is
this?\x94

This claim, thus advanced and at such a moment, was so outrageous, that
Martial, disgusted, made a sign to his father, which the latter did not
see.

But the cure hoping to recall the extortioner to something like a sense
of shame, exclaimed:

\x93Monsieur le Duc! Oh, Monsieur le Duc!\x94

Lacheneur shrugged his shoulders with an air of resignation.

\x93The income I have used for my own living expenses, and in educating
my children; but most of it has been expended in improving the estate,
which today yields an income twice as large as in former years.\x94

\x93That is to say, for twenty years, Monsieur Lacheneur has played the
part of lord of the manor. A delightful comedy. You are rich now, I
suppose.\x94

\x93I possess nothing. But I hope you will allow me to take ten thousand
francs, which your aunt gave to me.\x94

\x93Ah! she gave you ten thousand francs? And when?\x94

\x93On the same evening that she gave me the eighty thousand francs
intended for the purchase of the estate.\x94

\x93Perfect! What proof can you furnish that she gave you this sum?\x94

Lacheneur stood motionless and speechless. He tried to reply, but
he could not. If he opened his lips it would only be to pour forth a
torrent of menaces, insults, and invectives.

Marie-Anne stepped quickly forward.

\x93The proof, Monsieur,\x94 said she, in a clear, ringing voice, \x93is the word
of this man, who, of his own free will, comes to return to you--to give
you a fortune.\x94

As she sprang forward her beautiful dark hair escaped from its
confinement, the rich blood crimsoned her cheeks, her dark eyes flashed
brilliantly, and sorrow, anger, horror at the humiliation, imparted a
sublime expression to her face.

She was so beautiful that Martial regarded her with wonder.

\x93Lovely!\x94 he murmured, in English; \x93beautiful as an angel!\x94

These words, which she understood, abashed Marie-Anne. But she had said
enough; her father felt that he was avenged.

He drew from his pocket a roll of papers, and throwing them upon the
table: \x93Here are your titles,\x94 he said, addressing the duke in a tone
full of implacable hatred. \x93Keep the legacy that your aunt gave me,
I wish nothing of yours. I shall never set foot in Sairmeuse again.
Penniless I entered it, penniless I will leave it!\x94

He quitted the room with head proudly erect, and when they were outside,
he said but one word to his daughter:

\x93Well!\x94

\x93You have done your duty,\x94 she replied; \x93it is those who have not done
it, who are to be pitied!\x94

She had no opportunity to say more. Martial came running after them,
anxious for another chance of seeing this young girl whose beauty had
made such an impression upon him.

\x93I hastened after you,\x94 he said, addressing Marie-Anne, rather than M.
Lacheneur, \x93to reassure you. All this will be arranged, Mademoiselle.
Eyes so beautiful as yours should never know tears. I will be your
advocate with my father--\x94

\x93Mademoiselle Lacheneur has no need of an advocate!\x94 a harsh voice
interrupted.

Martial turned, and saw the young man, who, that morning, went to warn
M. Lacheneur of the duke\x92s arrival.

\x93I am the Marquis de Sairmeuse,\x94 he said, insolently.

\x93And I,\x94 said the other, quietly, \x93am Maurice d\x92Escorval.\x94

They surveyed each other for a moment; each expecting, perhaps, an
insult from the other. Instinctively, they felt that they were to
be enemies; and the bitterest animosity spoke in the glances they
exchanged. Perhaps they felt a presentiment that they were to be
champions of two different principles, as well as rivals.

Martial, remembering his father, yielded.

\x93We shall meet again, Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 he said, as he retired. At
this threat, Maurice shrugged his shoulders, and said:

\x93You had better not desire it.\x94



CHAPTER V

The abode of the Baron d\x92Escorval, that brick structure with stone
trimmings which was visible from the superb avenue leading to Sairmeuse,
was small and unpretentious.

Its chief attraction was a pretty lawn that extended to the banks of the
Oiselle, and a small but beautifully shaded park.

It was known as the Chateau d\x92Escorval, but that appellation was gross
flattery. Any petty manufacturer who had amassed a small fortune would
have desired a larger, handsomer, and more imposing establishment.

M. d\x92Escorval--and it will be an eternal honor to him in history--was
not rich.

Although he had been intrusted with several of those missions from which
generals and diplomats often return laden with millions, M. d\x92Escorval\x92s
worldly possessions consisted only of the little patrimony bequeathed
him by his father: a property which yielded an income of from twenty to
twenty-five thousand francs a year.

This modest dwelling, situated about a mile from Sairmeuse, represented
the savings of ten years.

He had built it in 1806, from a plan drawn by his own hand; and it was
the dearest spot on earth to him.

He always hastened to this retreat when his work allowed him a few days
of rest.

But this time he had not come to Escorval of his own free will.

He had been compelled to leave Paris by the proscribed list of the 24th
of July--that fatal list which summoned the enthusiastic Labedoyere and
the honest and virtuous Drouot before a court-martial.

And even in this solitude, M. d\x92Escorval\x92s situation was not without
danger.

He was one of those who, some days before the disaster of Waterloo, had
strongly urged the Emperor to order the execution of Fouche, the former
minister of police.

Now, Fouche knew this counsel; and he was powerful.

\x93Take care!\x94 M. d\x92Escorval\x92s friends wrote him from Paris.

But he put his trust in Providence, and faced the future, threatening
though it was, with the unalterable serenity of a pure conscience.

The baron was still young; he was not yet fifty, but anxiety, work, and
long nights passed in struggling with the most arduous difficulties of
the imperial policy, had made him old before his time.

He was tall, slightly inclined to _embonpoint_, and stooped a little.

His calm eyes, his serious mouth, his broad, furrowed forehead, and his
austere manners inspired respect.

\x93He must be stern and inflexible,\x94 said those who saw him for the first
time.

But they were mistaken.

If, in the exercise of his official duties, this truly great man had the
strength to resist all temptations to swerve from the path of right; if,
when duty was at stake, he was as rigid as iron, in private life he
was as unassuming as a child, and kind and gentle even to the verge of
weakness.

To this nobility of character he owed his domestic happiness, that rare
and precious happiness which fills one\x92s existence with a celestial
perfume.

During the bloodiest epoch of the Reign of Terror, M. d\x92Escorval had
wrested from the guillotine a young girl named Victoire-Laure d\x92Alleu, a
distant cousin of the Rhetaus of Commarin, as beautiful as an angel, and
only three years younger than himself.

He loved her--and though she was an orphan, destitute of fortune, he
married her, considering the treasure of her virgin heart of far greater
value than the most magnificent dowry.

She was an honest woman, as her husband was an honest man, in the most
strict and vigorous sense of the word.

She was seldom seen at the Tuileries, where M. d\x92Escorval\x92s worth made
him eagerly welcomed. The splendors of the Imperial Court, which at
that time surpassed all the pomp of the time of Louis XIV., had no
attractions for her.

Grace, beauty, youth and accomplishments--she reserved them all for the
adornment of her home.

Her husband was her God. She lived in him and through him. She had not a
thought which did not belong to him.

The short time that he could spare from his arduous labors to devote to
her were her happiest hours.

And when, in the evening, they sat beside the fire in their modest
drawing-room, with their son Maurice playing on the rug at their feet,
it seemed to them that they had nothing to wish for here below.

The overthrow of the empire surprised them in the heydey of their
happiness.

Surprised them? No. For a long time M. d\x92Escorval had seen the
prodigious edifice erected by the genius whom he had made his idol
totter as if about to fall.

Certainly, he felt intense chagrin at this fall, but he was heart-broken
at the sight of all the treason and cowardice which followed it. He was
indignant and horrified at the rising _en masse_ of the avaricious, who
hastened to gorge themselves with the spoil.

Under these circumstances, exile from Paris seemed an actual blessing.

\x93Besides,\x94 as he remarked to the baroness, \x93we shall soon be forgotten
here.\x94

But even while he said this he felt many misgivings. Still, by his side,
his noble wife presented a tranquil face, even while she trembled for
the safety of her adored husband.

On this first Sunday in August, M. d\x92Escorval and his wife had been
unusually sad. A vague presentiment of approaching misfortune weighed
heavily upon their hearts.

At the same hour that Lacheneur presented himself at the house of the
Abbe Midon, they were seated upon the terrace in front of the house,
gazing anxiously at the two roads leading from Escorval to the chateau,
and to the village of Sairmeuse.

Warned, that same morning, by his friends in Montaignac of the arrival
of the duke, the baron had sent his son to inform M. Lacheneur.

He had requested him to be absent as short a time as possible; but
in spite of this fact, the hours were rolling by, and Maurice had not
returned.

\x93What if something has happened to him!\x94 both father and mother were
thinking.

No; nothing had happened to him. Only a word from Mlle. Lacheneur had
sufficed to make him forget his usual deference to his father\x92s wishes.

\x93This evening,\x94 she had said, \x93I shall certainly know your heart.\x94

What could this mean? Could she doubt him?

Tortured by the most cruel anxieties, the poor youth could not resolve
to go away without an explanation, and he hung around the chateau hoping
that Marie-Anne would reappear.

She did reappear at last, but leaning upon the arm of her father.

Young d\x92Escorval followed them at a distance, and soon saw them enter
the parsonage. What were they going to do there? He knew that the duke
and his son were within.

The time that they remained there, and which he passed in the public
square, seemed more than a century long.

They emerged at last, however, and he was about to join them when he was
prevented by the appearance of Martial, whose promises he overheard.

Maurice knew nothing of life; he was as innocent as a child, but he
could not mistake the intentions that dictated this step on the part of
the Marquis de Sairmeuse.

At the thought that a libertine\x92s caprice should dare rest for an
instant upon the pure and beautiful girl whom he loved with all the
strength of his being--whom he had sworn should be his wife--all his
blood mounted madly to his brain.

He felt a wild longing to chastise the insolent wretch.

Fortunately--unfortunately, perhaps--his hand was arrested by the
recollection of a phrase which he had heard his father repeat a thousand
times:

\x93Calmness and irony are the only weapons worthy of the strong.\x94

And he possessed sufficient strength of will to appear calm, while, in
reality, he was beside himself with passion. It was Martial who lost his
self-control, and who threatened him.

\x93Ah! yes, I will find you again, upstart!\x94 repeated Maurice, through his
set teeth as he watched his enemy move away.

For Martial had turned and discovered that Marie-Anne and her father had
left him. He saw them standing about a hundred paces from him. Although
he was surprised at their indifference, he made haste to join them, and
addressed M. Lacheneur.

\x93We are just going to your father\x92s house,\x94 was the response he
received, in an almost ferocious tone.

A glance from Marie-Anne commanded silence. He obeyed, and walked a
few steps behind them, with his head bowed upon his breast, terribly
anxious, and seeking vainly to explain what had passed.

His attitude betrayed such intense sorrow that his mother divined it as
soon as she caught sight of him.

All the anguish which this courageous woman had hidden for a month,
found utterance in a single cry.

\x93Ah! here is misfortune!\x94 said she, \x93we shall not escape it.\x94

It was, indeed, misfortune. One could not doubt it when one saw M.
Lacheneur enter the drawing-room.

He advanced with the heavy, uncertain step of a drunken man, his eye
void of expression, his features distorted, his lips pale and trembling.

\x93What has happened?\x94 asked the baron, eagerly.

But the other did not seem to hear him.

\x93Ah! I warned her,\x94 he murmured, continuing a monologue which had begun
before he entered the room. \x93I told my daughter so.\x94

Mme. d\x92Escorval, after kissing Marie-Anne, drew the girl toward her.

\x93What has happened? For God\x92s sake, tell me what has happened!\x94 she
exclaimed.

With a gesture expressive of the most sorrowful resignation, the girl
motioned her to look and to listen to M. Lacheneur.

He had recovered from that stupor--that gift of God--which follows
cries that are too terrible for human endurance. Like a sleeper who, on
waking, finds his miseries forgotten during his slumber, lying in wait
for him, he regained with consciousness the capacity to suffer.

\x93It is only this, Monsieur le Baron,\x94 replied the unfortunate man in a
harsh, unnatural voice: \x93I rose this morning the richest proprietor
in the country, and I shall lay down to-night poorer than the
poorest beggar in this commune. I had everything; I no longer have
anything--nothing but my two hands. They earned me my bread for
twenty-five years; they will earn it for me now until the day of my
death. I had a beautiful dream; it is ended.\x94

Before this outburst of despair, M. d\x92Escorval turned pale.

\x93You must exaggerate your misfortune,\x94 he faltered; \x93explain what has
happened.\x94

Unconscious of what he was doing, M. Lacheneur threw his hat upon a
chair, and flinging back his long, gray hair, he said:

\x93To you I will tell all. I came here for that purpose. I know you; I
know your heart. And have you not done me the honor to call me your
friend?\x94

Then, with the cruel exactness of the living, breathing truth, he
related the scene which had just taken place at the presbytery.

The baron listened petrified with astonishment, almost doubting the
evidence of his own senses. Mme. d\x92Escorval\x92s indignant and sorrowful
exclamations showed that every noble sentiment in her soul revolted
against such injustice.

But there was one auditor, whom Marie-Anne alone observed, who was moved
to his very entrails by this recital. This auditor was Maurice.

Leaning against the door, pale as death, he tried most energetically,
but in vain, to repress the tears of rage and of sorrow which swelled up
in his eyes.

To insult Lacheneur was to insult Marie-Anne--that is to say, to injure,
to strike, to outrage him in all that he held most dear in the world.

Ah! it is certain that Martial, had he been within his reach, would have
paid dearly for these insults to the father of the girl Maurice loved.

But he swore that this chastisement was only deferred--that it should
surely come.

And it was not mere angry boasting. This young man, though so modest
and so gentle in manner, had a heart that was inaccessible to fear. His
beautiful, dark eyes, which had the trembling timidity of the eyes of a
young girl, met the gaze of an enemy without flinching.

When M. Lacheneur had repeated the last words which he had addressed to
the Duc de Sairmeuse, M. d\x92Escorval offered him his hand.

\x93I have told you already that I was your friend,\x94 he said, in a voice
faltering with emotion; \x93but I must tell you to-day that I am proud of
having such a friend as you.\x94

The unfortunate man trembled at the touch of that loyal hand which
clasped his so warmly, and his face betrayed an ineffable satisfaction.

\x93If my father had not returned it,\x94 murmured the obstinate Marie-Anne,
\x93my father would have been an unfaithful guardian--a thief. He has done
only his duty.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval turned to the young girl, a little surprised.

\x93You speak the truth, Mademoiselle,\x94 he said, reproachfully; \x93but when
you are as old as I am, and have had my experience, you will know that
the accomplishment of a duty is, under certain circumstances, a heroism
of which few persons are capable.\x94

M. Lacheneur turned to his friend.

\x93Ah! your words do me good, Monsieur,\x94 said he. \x93Now, I am content with
what I have done.\x94

The baroness rose, too much the woman to know how to resist the generous
dictates of her heart.

\x93And I, also, Monsieur Lacheneur,\x94 she said, \x93desire to press your hand.
I wish to tell you that I esteem you as much as I despise the ingrates
who have sought to humiliate you, when they should have fallen at your
feet. They are heartless monsters, the like of whom certainly cannot be
found upon the earth.\x94

\x93Alas!\x94 sighed the baron, \x93the allies have brought back others who, like
these men, think the world created exclusively for their benefit.\x94

\x93And these people wish to be our masters,\x94 growled Lacheneur.

By some strange fatality no one chanced to hear the remark made by M.
Lacheneur. Had they overheard and questioned him, he would probably have
disclosed some of the projects which were as yet in embryo in his own
mind; and in that case what disastrous consequences might have been
averted.

M. d\x92Escorval had regained his usual coolness.

\x93Now, my dear friend,\x94 he inquired, \x93what course do you propose to
pursue with these members of the Sairmeuse family?\x94

\x93They will hear nothing more from me--for some time, at least.\x94

\x93What! Shall you not claim the ten thousand francs that they owe you?\x94

\x93I shall ask them for nothing.\x94

\x93You will be compelled to do so. Since you have alluded to the legacy,
your own honor will demand that you insist upon its payment by all legal
methods. There are still judges in France.\x94

M. Lacheneur shook his head.

\x93The judges will not accord me the justice I desire. I shall not apply
to them.\x94

\x93But----\x94

\x93No, Monsieur, no. I wish to have nothing to do with these men. I
shall not even go to the chateau to remove my clothing nor that of my
daughter. If they send it to us--very well. If it pleases them to keep
it, so much the better. The more shameful, infamous and odious their
conduct appears, the better I shall be satisfied.\x94

The baron made no reply; but his wife spoke, believing she had a sure
means of conquering this incomprehensible obstinacy.

\x93I should understand your determination if you were alone in the world,\x94
 said she, \x93but you have children.\x94

\x93My son is eighteen, Madame; he possesses good health and an excellent
education. He can make his own way in Paris, if he chooses to remain
there.\x94

\x93But your daughter?\x94

\x93Marie-Anne will remain with me.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval thought it his duty to interfere.

\x93Take care, my dear friend, that your grief does not overthrow your
reason,\x94 said he. \x93Reflect! What will become of you--your daughter and
yourself?\x94

The wretched man smiled sadly.

\x93Oh,\x94 he replied, \x93we are not as destitute as I said. I exaggerated our
misfortune. We are still landed proprietors. Last year an old cousin,
whom I could never induce to come and live at Sairmeuse, died,
bequeathing all her property to Marie-Anne. This property consisted of a
poor little cottage near the Reche, with a little garden and a few acres
of sterile land. In compliance with my daughter\x92s entreaties, I repaired
the cottage, and sent there a few articles of furniture--a table, some
chairs, and a couple of beds. My daughter designed it as a home for old
Father Guvat and his wife. And I, surrounded by wealth and luxury, said
to myself: \x91How comfortable those two old people will be there.
They will live as snug as a bug in a rug!\x92 Well, what I thought so
comfortable for others, will be good enough for me. I will raise
vegetables, and Marie-Anne shall sell them.\x94

Was he speaking seriously?

Maurice must have supposed so, for he sprang forward.

\x93This shall not be, Monsieur Lacheneur!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Oh----\x94

\x93No, this shall not be, for I love Marie-Anne, and I ask you to give her
to me for my wife.\x94



CHAPTER VI

Maurice and Marie-Anne had loved each other for many years.

As children, they had played together in the magnificent grounds
surrounding the Chateau de Sairmeuse, and in the park at Escorval.

Together they chased the brilliant butterflies, searched for pebbles
on the banks of the river, or rolled in the hay while their mothers
sauntered through the meadows bordering the Oiselle.

For their mothers were friends.

Mme. Lacheneur had been reared like other poor peasant girls; that is
to say, on the day of her marriage it was only with great difficulty she
succeeded in inscribing her name upon the register.

But from the example of her husband she had learned that prosperity, as
well as _noblesse_, entails certain obligations upon one, and with rare
courage, crowned with still rarer success, she had undertaken to acquire
an education in keeping with her fortune and her new rank.

And the baroness had made no effort to resist the sympathy that
attracted her to this meritorious young woman, in whom she had discerned
a really superior mind and a truly refined nature.

When Mme. Lacheneur died, Mme. d\x92Escorval mourned for her as she would
have mourned for a favorite sister.

From that moment Maurice\x92s attachment assumed a more serious character.

Educated in a Parisian lyceum, his teachers sometimes had occasion to
complain of his want of application.

\x93If your professors are not satisfied with you,\x94 said his mother, \x93you
shall not accompany me to Escorval on the coming of your vacation, and
you will not see your little friend.\x94

And this simple threat was always sufficient to make the school-boy
resume his studies with redoubled diligence.

So each year, as it passed, strengthened the _grande passion_ which
preserved Maurice from the restlessness and the errors of adolescence.

The two children were equally timid and artless, and equally infatuated
with each other.

Long walks in the twilight under the eyes of their parents, a glance
that revealed their delight at meeting each other, flowers exchanged
between them--which were religiously preserved--such were their simple
pleasures.

But that magical and sublime word, love--so sweet to utter, and so sweet
to hear--had never once dropped from their lips.

The audacity of Maurice had never gone beyond a furtive pressure of the
hand.

The parents could not be ignorant of this mutual affection; and if they
pretended to shut their eyes, it was only because it did not displease
them nor disturb their plans.

M. and Mme. d\x92Escorval saw no objection to their son\x92s marriage with a
young girl whose nobility of character they appreciated, and who was as
beautiful as she was good. That she was the richest heiress in all the
country round about was naturally no objection.

So far as M. Lacheneur was concerned, he was delighted at the prospect
of a marriage which would ally him, a former ploughboy, with an old
family whose head was universally respected.

So, although no direct allusion to the subject had ever escaped the lips
of the baron or of M. Lacheneur, there was a tacit agreement between the
two families.

Yes, the marriage was considered a foregone conclusion.

And yet this impetuous and unexpected declaration by Maurice struck
everyone dumb.

In spite of his agitation, the young man perceived the effect produced
by his words, and frightened by his own boldness, he turned and looked
questioningly at his father.

The baron\x92s face was grave, even sad; but his attitude expressed no
displeasure.

This gave renewed courage to the anxious lover.

\x93You will excuse me, Monsieur,\x94 he said, addressing Lacheneur, \x93for
presenting my request in such a manner, and at such a time. But surely,
when fate glowers ominously upon you, that is the time when your friends
should declare themselves--and deem themselves fortunate if their
devotion can make you forget the infamous treatment to which you have
been subjected.\x94

As he spoke, he was watching Marie-Anne.

Blushing and embarrassed, she turned away her head, perhaps to conceal
the tears which inundated her face--tears of joy and of gratitude.

The love of the man she adored came forth victorious from a test which
it would not be prudent for many heiresses to impose.

Now she could truly say that she knew Maurice\x92s heart.

He, however, continued:

\x93I have not consulted my father, sir; but I know his affection for me
and his esteem for you. When the happiness of my life is at stake, he
will not oppose me. He, who married my dear mother without a dowry, must
understand my feelings.\x94

He was silent, awaiting the verdict.

\x93I approve your course, my son,\x94 said M. d\x92Escorval, deeply affected;
\x93you have conducted yourself like an honorable man. Certainly you
are very young to become the head of a family; but, as you say,
circumstances demand it.\x94

He turned to M. Lacheneur, and added:

\x93My dear friend, I, in my son\x92s behalf, ask the hand of your daughter in
marriage.\x94

Maurice had not expected so little opposition.

In his delight he was almost tempted to bless the hateful Duc de
Sairmeuse, to whom he would owe his approaching happiness.

He sprang toward his father, and seizing his hands, he raised them to
his lips, faltering:

\x93Thanks! you are so good! I love you! Oh, how happy I am!\x94

Alas! the poor boy was in too much haste to rejoice.

A gleam of pride flashed in M. Lacheneur\x92s eyes; but his face soon
resumed its gloomy expression.

\x93Believe me, Monsieur le Baron, I am deeply touched by your grandeur of
soul--yes, deeply touched. You wish to make me forget my humiliation;
but, for this very reason, I should be the most contemptible of men if I
did not refuse the great honor you desire to confer upon my daughter.\x94

\x93What!\x94 exclaimed the baron, in utter astonishment; \x93you refuse?\x94

\x93I am compelled to do so.\x94

Thunderstruck at first, Maurice afterward renewed the attack with an
energy which no one had ever suspected in his character before.

\x93Do you, then, wish to ruin my life, Monsieur?\x94 he exclaimed; \x93to ruin
_our_ life; for if I love Marie-Anne, she also loves me.\x94

It was easy to see that he spoke the truth. The unhappy girl, crimson
with happy blushes the moment before, had suddenly become whiter than
marble, as she looked imploringly at her father.

\x93It cannot be,\x94 repeated M. Lacheneur; \x93and the day will come when you
will bless the decision I make known at this moment.\x94

Alarmed by her son\x92s evident agony, Mme. d\x92Escorval interposed:

\x93You must have reasons for this refusal.\x94

\x93None that I can disclose, Madame. But never while I live shall my
daughter be your son\x92s wife!\x94

\x93Ah! it will kill my child!\x94 exclaimed the baroness.

M. Lacheneur shook his head.

\x93Monsieur Maurice,\x94 said he, \x93is young; he will console himself--he will
forget.\x94

\x93Never!\x94 interrupted the unhappy lover--\x93never!\x94

\x93And your daughter?\x94 inquired the baroness.

Ah! this was the weak spot in his armor; the instinct of a mother was
not mistaken. M. Lacheneur hesitated a moment; but he finally conquered
the weakness that had threatened to master him.

\x93Marie-Anne,\x94 he replied, slowly, \x93knows her duty too well not to obey
when I command. When I tell her the motive that governs my conduct, she
will become resigned; and if she suffers, she will know how to conceal
her sufferings.\x94

He paused suddenly. They heard in the distance a firing of musketry, the
discharge of rifles, whose sharp ring overpowered even the sullen roar
of cannon.

Every face grew pale. Circumstances imparted to these sounds an ominous
significance.

With the same anguish clutching the hearts of both, M. d\x92Escorval and
Lacheneur sprang out upon the terrace.

But all was still again. Extended as was the horizon, the eye could
discern nothing unusual. The sky was blue; not a particle of smoke hung
over the trees.

\x93It is the enemy,\x94 muttered M. Lacheneur, in a tone which told how
gladly he would have shouldered his gun, and, with five hundred others,
marched against the united allies.

He paused. The explosions were repeated with still greater violence, and
for a period of five minutes succeeded each other without cessation.

M. d\x92Escorval listened with knitted brows.

\x93That is not the fire of an engagement,\x94 he murmured.

To remain long in such a state of uncertainty was out of the question.

\x93If you will permit me, father,\x94 ventured Maurice, \x93I will go and
ascertain----\x94

\x93_Go_,\x94 replied the baron, quietly; \x93but if it is anything, which I
doubt, do not expose yourself to danger; return.\x94

\x93Oh! be prudent!\x94 insisted Mme. d\x92Escorval, who already saw her son
exposed to the most frightful peril.

\x93Be prudent!\x94 entreated Marie-Anne, who alone understood what
attractions danger might have for a despairing and unhappy man.

These precautions were unnecessary. As Maurice was rushing to the door,
his father stopped him.

\x93Wait,\x94 said he; \x93here is someone who can probably give us information.\x94

A man had just appeared around a turn of the road leading to Sairmeuse.

He was advancing bareheaded in the middle of the dusty road, with
hurried strides, and occasionally brandishing his stick, as if
threatening an enemy visible to himself alone.

Soon they were able to distinguish his features.

\x93It is Chanlouineau!\x94 exclaimed M. Lacheneur.

\x93The owner of the vineyards on the Borderie?\x94

\x93The same! The handsomest young farmer in the country, and the best
also. Ah! he has good blood in his veins; we may well be proud of him.\x94

\x93Ask him to stop,\x94 said M. d\x92Escorval.

Lacheneur leaned over the balustrade, and, forming a trumpet out of his
two hands, he called:

\x93Oh! Chanlouineau!\x94

The robust young farmer raised his head.

\x93Come up,\x94 shouted Lacheneur; \x93the baron wishes to speak with you.\x94

Chanlouineau responded by a gesture of assent. They saw him enter
the gate, cross the garden, and at last appear at the door of the
drawing-room.

His features were distorted with fury, his disordered clothing gave
evidence of a serious conflict. His cravat was gone, and his torn
shirt-collar revealed his muscular throat.

\x93Where is this fighting?\x94 demanded Lacheneur eagerly; \x93and with whom?\x94

Chanlouineau gave a nervous laugh which resembled a roar of rage.

\x93They are not fighting,\x94 he replied; \x93they are amusing themselves. This
firing which you hear is in honor of Monsieur le Duc de Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93Impossible!\x94

\x93I know it very well; and yet, what I have told you is the truth. It is
the work of that miserable wretch and thief, Chupin. Ah, _canaille_! If
I ever find him within reach of my arm he will never steal again.\x94

M. Lacheneur was confounded.

\x93Tell us what has happened,\x94 he said, excitedly.

\x93Oh, it is as clear as daylight. When the duke arrived at Sairmeuse,
Chupin, the old scoundrel, with his two rascally boys, and that old hag,
his wife, ran after the carriage like beggars after a diligence,
crying, \x91Vive Monsieur le Duc!\x92 The duke was enchanted, for he doubtless
expected a volley of stones, and he placed a six-franc piece in the hand
of each of the wretches. This money gave Chupin an appetite for more,
so he took it into his head to give this old noble a reception like that
which was given to the Emperor. Having learned through Bibiaine, whose
tongue is as long as a viper\x92s, all that has passed at the presbytery,
between you, Monsieur Lacheneur, and the duke, he came and proclaimed it
in the market-place. When they heard it, all who had purchased national
lands were frightened. Chupin had counted on this, and soon he began
telling the poor fools that they must burn powder under the duke\x92s nose
if they wished him to confirm their titles to their property.\x94

\x93And did they believe him?\x94

\x93Implicitly. It did not take them long to make their preparations. They
went to the town hall and took the firemen\x92s rifles, and the guns used
for firing a salute on fete days; the mayor gave them the powder, and
you heard----

\x93When I left Sairmeuse there were more than two hundred idiots before
the presbytery, shouting:

\x93_Vive Monseigneur! Vive le Duc de Sairmeuse_!\x94

It was as d\x92Escorval had thought.

\x93The same pitiful farce that was played in Paris, only on a smaller
scale,\x94 he murmured. \x93Avarice and human cowardice are the same the world
over!\x94

Meanwhile, Chanlouineau was going on with his recital.

\x93To make the fete complete, the devil must have warned all the nobility
in the neighborhood, for they all came running. They say that Monsieur
de Sairmeuse is a favorite with the King, and that he can get anything
he wishes. So you can imagine how they all greeted him! I am only a poor
peasant, but never would I lie down in the dust before any man as these
old nobles who are so haughty with us, did before the duke. They kissed
his hands, and he allowed them to do it. He walked about the square with
the Marquis de Courtornieu----\x94

\x93And his son?\x94 interrupted Maurice.

\x93The Marquis Martial, is it not? He is also walking before the church
with Mademoiselle Blanche de Courtornieu upon his arm. Ah! I do not
understand how people can call her pretty--a little bit of a thing,
so blond that one might suppose her hair was gray. Ah! how those two
laughed and made fun of the peasants. They say they are going to marry
each other. And even this evening there is to be a banquet at the
Chateau de Courtornieu in honor of the duke.\x94

He had told all he knew. He paused.

\x93You have forgotten only one thing,\x94 said M. Lacheneur; \x93that is,
to tell us how your clothing happened to be torn, as if you had been
fighting.\x94

The young farmer hesitated for a moment, then replied, somewhat
brusquely:

\x93I can tell you, all the same. While Chupin was preaching, I also
preached, but not in the same strain. The scoundrel reported me. So, in
crossing the square, the duke paused before me and remarked: \x91So you are
an evil-disposed person?\x92 I said no, but that I knew my rights. Then he
took me by the coat and shook me, and told me that he would cure me,
and that he would take possession of _his_ vineyard again. _Saint Dieu_!
When I felt the old rascal\x92s hand upon me my blood boiled. I pinioned
him. Fortunately, six or seven men fell upon me, and compelled me to let
him go. But he had better make up his mind not to come prowling around
my vineyard!\x94

He clinched his hands, his eyes blazed ominously, his whole person
breathed an intense desire for vengeance.

And M. d\x92Escorval was silent, fearing to aggravate this hatred,
so imprudently kindled, and whose explosion, he believed, would be
terrible.

M. Lacheneur had risen from his chair.

\x93I must go and take possession of my cottage,\x94 he remarked to
Chanlouineau; \x93you will accompany me; I have a proposition to make to
you.\x94

M. and Mme. d\x92Escorval endeavored to detain him, but he would not allow
himself to be persuaded, and he departed with his daughter.

But Maurice did not despair; Marie-Anne had promised to meet him the
following day in the pine-grove near the Reche.



CHAPTER VII

The demonstrations which had greeted the Duc de Sairmeuse had been
correctly reported by Chanlouineau.

Chupin had found the secret of kindling to a white heat the enthusiasm
of the cold and calculating peasants who were his neighbors.

He was a dangerous rascal, the old robber, shrewd and cautious; bold, as
those who possess nothing can afford to be; as patient as a savage; in
short, one of the most consummate scoundrels that ever existed.

The peasants feared him, and yet they had no conception of his real
character.

All his resources of mind had, until now, been expended in evading the
precipice of the rural code.

To save himself from falling into the hands of the gendarmes, and to
steal a few sacks of wheat, he had expended treasures of intrigue which
would have made the fortunes of twenty diplomats.

Circumstances, as he always said, had been against him.

So he desperately caught at the first and only opportunity worthy of his
talent, which had ever presented itself.

Of course, the wily rustic had said nothing of the true circumstances
which attended the restoration of Sairmeuse to its former owner.

From him, the peasants learned only the bare fact; and the news spread
rapidly from group to group.

\x93Monsieur Lacheneur has given up Sairmeuse,\x94 said he. \x93Chateau, forests,
vineyards, fields--he surrenders everything.\x94

This was enough, and more than enough to terrify every land-owner in the
village.

If Lacheneur, this man who was so powerful in their eyes, considered the
danger so threatening that he deemed it necessary or advisable to make
a complete surrender, what was to become of them--poor devils--without
aid, without counsel, without defence?

They were told that the government was about to betray their interests;
that a decree was in process of preparation which would render their
title-deeds worthless. They could see no hope of salvation, except
through the duke\x92s generosity--that generosity which Chupin painted with
the glowing colors of the rainbow.

When one is not strong enough to weather the gale, one must bow like the
reed before it and rise again after the storm has passed; such was their
conclusion.

And they bowed. And their apparent enthusiasm was all the more
vociferous on account of the rage and fear that filled their hearts.

A close observer would have detected an undercurrent of anger and menace
in their shouts.

Each man also said to himself:

\x93What do we risk by crying, \x91Vive le Duc?\x92 Nothing; absolutely
nothing. If he is contented with that as a compensation for his lost
property--good! If he is not content, we shall have time afterward to
adopt other measures.\x94

So they shouted themselves hoarse.

And while the duke was sipping his coffee in the little drawing-room
of the presbytery, he expressed his lively satisfaction at the scene
without.

He, this _grand seigneur_ of times gone by, this man of absurd
prejudices and obstinate illusions; the unconquerable, and the
incorrigible--he took these acclamations, \x93truly spurious coin,\x94 as
Chateaubriand says, for ready money.

\x93How you have deceived me, cure,\x94 he was saying to Abbe Midon. \x93How
could you declare that your people were unfavorably disposed toward us?
One is compelled to believe that these evil intentions exist only in
your own mind and in your own heart.\x94

Abbe Midon was silent. What could he reply?

He could not understand this sudden revolution in public opinion--this
abrupt change from gloom and discontent to excessive gayety.

There is somebody at the bottom of all this, he thought.

It was not long before it became apparent who that somebody was.

Emboldened by his success without, Chupin ventured to present himself at
the presbytery.

He entered the drawing-room with his back rounded into a circle,
scraping and cringing, an obsequious smile upon his lips.

And through the half-open door one could discern, in the shadows of the
passage, the far from reassuring faces of his two sons.

He came as an ambassador, he declared, after an interminable litany of
protestations--he came to implore monseigneur to show himself upon the
public square.

\x93Ah, well--yes,\x94 exclaimed the duke, rising; \x93yes, I will yield to the
wishes of these good people. Follow me, Marquis!\x94

As he appeared at the door of the presbytery, a loud shout rent the air;
the rifles were discharged, the guns belched forth their smoke and fire.
Never had Sairmeuse heard such a salvo of artillery. Three windows in
the Boeuf Couronne were shattered.

A veritable _grand seigneur_, the Duc de Sairmeuse knew how to preserve
an appearance of haughtiness and indifference. Any display of emotion
was, in his opinion, vulgar; but, in reality, he was delighted, charmed.

So delighted that he desired to reward his welcomers.

A glance over the deeds handed him by Lacheneur had shown him that
Sairmeuse had been restored to him intact.

The portions of the immense domain which had been detached and sold
separately were of relatively minor importance.

The duke thought it would be politic, and, at the same time,
inexpensive, to abandon all claim to these few acres, which were now
shared by forty or fifty peasants.

\x93My friends,\x94 he exclaimed, in a loud voice, \x93I renounce, for myself and
for my descendants, all claim to the lands belonging to my house which
you have purchased. They are yours--I give them to you!\x94

By this absurd pretence of a gift, M. de Sairmeuse thought to add the
finishing touch to his popularity. A great mistake! It simply assured
the popularity of Chupin, the organizer of the farce.

And while the duke was promenading through the crowd with a proud and
self-satisfied air, the peasants were secretly laughing and jeering at
him.

And if they promptly took sides with him against Chanlouineau, it
was only because his gift was still fresh in their minds; except for
this----

But the duke had not time to think much about this encounter, which
produced a vivid impression upon his son.

One of his former companions in exile, the Marquis de Courtornieu, whom
he had informed of his arrival, hastened to welcome him, accompanied by
his daughter, Mlle. Blanche.

Martial could do no less than offer his arm to the daughter of his
father\x92s friend; and they took a leisurely promenade in the shade of
the lofty trees, while the duke renewed his acquaintance with all the
nobility of the neighborhood.

There was not a single nobleman who did not hasten to press the hand of
the Duc de Sairmeuse. First, he possessed, it was said, a property of
more than twenty millions in England. Then, he was the friend of the
King, and each neighbor had some favor to ask for himself, for his
relatives, or for his friends.

Poor king! He should have had entire France to divide like a cake
between these cormorants, whose voracious appetites it was impossible to
satisfy.

That evening, after a grand banquet at the Chateau de Courtornieu,
the duke slept in the Chateau de Sairmeuse, in the room which had been
occupied by Lacheneur, \x93like Louis XVIII.,\x94 he laughingly said, \x93in the
chamber of Bonaparte.\x94

He was gay, chatty, and full of confidence in the future.

\x93Ah! it is good to be in one\x92s own house!\x94 he remarked to his son again
and again.

But Martial responded only mechanically. His mind was occupied with
thoughts of two women who had made a profound impression upon his by
no means susceptible heart that day. He was thinking of those two young
girls, so utterly unlike. Blanche de Courtornieu--Marie-Anne Lacheneur.



CHAPTER VIII

Only those who, in the bright springtime of life, have loved, have been
loved in return, and have suddenly seen an impassable gulf open between
them and happiness, can realize Maurice d\x92Escorval\x92s disappointment.

All the dreams of his life, all his future plans, were based upon his
love for Marie-Anne.

If this love failed him, the enchanted castle which hope had erected
would crumble and fall, burying him in the ruins.

Without Marie-Anne he saw neither aim nor motive in his existence. Still
he did not suffer himself to be deluded by false hopes. Although at
first, his appointed meeting with Marie-Anne on the following day
seemed salvation itself, on reflection he was forced to admit that this
interview would change nothing, since everything depended upon the will
of another party--the will of M. Lacheneur.

The remainder of the day he passed in mournful silence. The dinner-hour
came; he took his seat at the table, but it was impossible for him
to swallow a morsel, and he soon requested his parents\x92 permission to
withdraw.

M. d\x92Escorval and the baroness exchanged a sorrowful glance, but did not
allow themselves to offer any comment.

They respected his grief. They knew that his was one of those sorrows
which are only aggravated by any attempt at consolation.

\x93Poor Maurice!\x94 murmured Mme. d\x92Escorval, as soon as her son had left
the room. And, as her husband made no reply: \x93Perhaps,\x94 she added,
hesitatingly, \x93perhaps it will not be prudent for us to leave him too
entirely to the dictates of his despair.\x94

The baron shuddered. He divined only too well the terrible apprehensions
of his wife.

\x93We have nothing to fear,\x94 he replied, quickly; \x93I heard Marie-Anne
promise to meet Maurice to-morrow in the grove on the Reche.\x94

The anxious mother breathed more freely. Her blood had frozen with
horror at the thought that her son might, perhaps, be contemplating
suicide; but she was a mother, and her husband\x92s assurances did not
satisfy her.

She hastily ascended the stairs leading to her son\x92s room, softly opened
the door, and looked in. He was so engrossed in his gloomy revery that
he had heard nothing, and did not even suspect the presence of the
anxious mother who was watching over him.

He was sitting at the window, his elbows resting upon the sill, his head
supported by his hands, looking out into the night.

There was no moon, but the night was clear, and over beyond the light
fog that indicated the course of the Oiselle one could discern the
imposing mass of the Chateau de Sairmeuse, with its towers and fanciful
turrets.

More than once he had sat thus silently gazing at this chateau, which
sheltered what was dearest and most precious in all the world to him.

From his windows he could see those of the room occupied by Marie-Anne;
and his heart always quickened its throbbing when he saw them
illuminated.

\x93She is there,\x94 he thought, \x93in her virgin chamber. She is kneeling to
say her prayers. She murmurs my name after that of her father, imploring
God\x92s blessing upon us both.\x94

But this evening he was not waiting for a light to gleam through the
panes of that dear window.

Marie-Anne was no longer at Sairmeuse--she had been driven away.

Where was she now? She, accustomed to all the luxury that wealth could
procure, no longer had any home except a poor thatch-covered hovel,
whose walls were not even whitewashed, whose only floor was the earth
itself, dusty as the public highway in summer, frozen or muddy in
winter.

She was reduced to the necessity of occupying herself the humble abode
she, in her charitable heart, had intended as an asylum for one of her
pensioners.

What was she doing now? Doubtless she was weeping.

At this thought poor Maurice was heartbroken.

What was his surprise, a little after midnight, to see the chateau
brilliantly illuminated.

The duke and his son had repaired to the chateau after the banquet given
by the Marquis de Courtornieu was over; and, before going to bed, they
made a tour of inspection through this magnificent abode in which
their ancestors had lived. They, therefore, might be said to have
taken possession of the mansion whose threshold M. de Sairmeuse had not
crossed for twenty-two years, and which Martial had never seen.

Maurice saw the lights leap from story to story, from casement to
casement, until at last even the windows of Marie-Anne\x92s room were
illuminated.

At this sight the unhappy youth could not restrain a cry of rage.

These men, these strangers, dared enter this virgin bower, which he,
even in thought, scarcely dared to penetrate.

They trampled carelessly over the delicate carpet with their heavy
boots. Maurice trembled in thinking of the liberties which they, in
their insolent familiarity, might venture upon. He fancied he could see
them examining and handling the thousand petty trifles with which young
girls love to surround themselves; they opened the presses, perhaps they
were reading an unfinished letter lying upon her writing-desk.

Never until this evening had Martial supposed he could hate another as
he hated these men.

At last, in despair, he threw himself upon his bed, and passed the
remainder of the night in thinking over what he should say to Marie-Anne
on the morrow, and in seeking some issue from this inextricable
labyrinth.

He rose before daybreak, and wandered about the park like a soul in
distress, fearing, yet longing, for the hour that would decide his fate.
Mme. d\x92Escorval was obliged to exert all her authority to make him take
some nourishment. He had quite forgotten that he had passed twenty-four
hours without eating.

When eleven o\x92clock sounded he left the house.

The lands of the Reche are situated on the other side of the Oiselle.
Maurice, to reach his destination, was obliged to cross the river at
a ferry only a short distance from his home. When he reached the
river-bank he found six or seven peasants who were waiting to cross.

These people did not observe Maurice. They were talking earnestly, and
he listened.

\x93It is certainly true,\x94 said one of the men. \x93I heard it from
Chanlouineau himself only last evening. He was wild with delight. \x91I
invite you all to the wedding!\x92 he cried. \x91I am betrothed to Monsieur
Lacheneur\x92s daughter; the affair is decided.\x92\x94

This astounding news positively stunned Maurice. He was actually unable
to think or to move.

\x93Besides, he has been in love with her for a long time. Everyone knows
that. One had only to see his eyes when he met her--coals of fire were
nothing to them. But while her father was so rich he did not dare to
speak. Now that the old man has met with these reverses, he ventures to
offer himself, and is accepted.\x94

\x93An unfortunate thing for him,\x94 remarked a little old man.

\x93Why so?\x94

\x93If Monsieur Lacheneur is ruined, as they say----\x94

The others laughed heartily.

\x93Ruined--Monsieur Lacheneur!\x94 they exclaimed in chorus. \x93How absurd!
He is richer than all of us together. Do you suppose that he has been
stupid enough not to have laid anything aside during all these years? He
has put this money not in grounds, as he pretends, but somewhere else.\x94

\x93You are saying what is untrue!\x94 interrupted Maurice, indignantly.
\x93Monsieur Lacheneur left Sairmeuse as poor as he entered it.\x94

On recognizing M. d\x92Escorval\x92s son, the peasants became extremely
cautious. He questioned them, but could obtain only vague and
unsatisfactory answers. A peasant, when interrogated, will never give
a response which he thinks will be displeasing to his questioner; he is
afraid of compromising himself.

The news he had heard, however, caused Maurice to hasten on still more
rapidly after crossing the Oiselle.

\x93Marie-Anne marry Chanlouineau!\x94 he repeated; \x93it is impossible! it is
impossible!\x94



CHAPTER IX

The Reche, literally translated the \x93Waste,\x94 where Marie-Anne had
promised to meet Maurice, owed its name to the rebellious and sterile
character of the soil.

Nature seemed to have laid her curse upon it. Nothing would grow there.
The ground was covered with stones, and the sandy soil defied all
attempts to enrich it.

A few stunted oaks rose here and there above the thorns and broom-plant.

But on the lowlands of the Reche is a flourishing grove. The firs are
straight and strong, for the floods of winter have deposited in some
of the clefts of the rock sufficient soil to sustain them and the wild
clematis and honeysuckle that cling to their branches.

On reaching this grove, Maurice consulted his watch. It marked the hour
of mid-day. He had supposed that he was late, but he was more than an
hour in advance of the appointed time.

He seated himself upon a high rock, from which he could survey the
entire Reche, and waited.

The day was magnificent; the air intensely hot. The rays of the August
sun fell with scorching violence upon the sandy soil, and withered the
few plants which had sprung up since the last rain.

The stillness was profound, almost terrible. Not a sound broke the
silence, not even the buzzing of an insect, nor a whisper of breeze in
the trees. All nature seemed sleeping. And on no side was there anything
to remind one of life, motion, or mankind.

This repose of nature, which contrasted so vividly with the tumult
raging in his own heart, exerted a beneficial effect upon Maurice.
These few moments of solitude afforded him an opportunity to regain his
composure, to collect his thoughts scattered by the storm of passion
which had swept over his soul, as leaves are scattered by the fierce
November gale.

With sorrow comes experience, and that cruel knowledge of life which
teaches one to guard one\x92s self against one\x92s hopes.

It was not until he heard the conversation of these peasants that
Maurice fully realized the horror of Lacheneur\x92s position. Suddenly
precipitated from the social eminence which he had attained, he found,
in the valley of humiliations into which he was cast, only hatred,
distrust, and scorn. Both factions despised and denied him. Traitor,
cried one; thief, cried the other. He no longer held any social status.
He was the fallen man, the man who _had_ been, and who was no more.

Was not the excessive misery of such a position a sufficient explanation
of the strangest and wildest resolutions?

This thought made Maurice tremble. Connecting the stories of the
peasants with the words addressed to Chanlouineau at Escorval by M.
Lacheneur on the preceding evening, he arrived at the conclusion that
this report of Marie-Anne\x92s approaching marriage to the young farmer was
not so improbable as he had at first supposed.

But why should M. Lacheneur give his daughter to an uncultured peasant?
From mercenary motives? Certainly not, since he had just refused an
alliance of which he had been proud in his days of prosperity. Could it
be in order to satisfy his wounded pride, then? Perhaps he did not wish
it to be said that he owed anything to a son-in-law.

Maurice was exhausting all his ingenuity and penetration in endeavoring
to solve this mystery, when at last, on a foot-path which crosses the
waste, a woman appeared--Marie-Anne.

He rose, but fearing observation, did not venture to leave the shelter
of the grove.

Marie-Anne must have felt a similar fear, for she hurried on, casting
anxious glances on every side as she ran. Maurice remarked, not without
surprise, that she was bare-headed, and that she had neither shawl nor
scarf about her shoulders.

As she reached the edge of the wood, he sprang toward her, and catching
her hand raised it to his lips.

But this hand, which she had so often yielded to him, was now gently
withdrawn, with so sad a gesture that he could not help feeling there
was no hope.

\x93I came, Maurice,\x94 she began, \x93because I could not endure the thought of
your anxiety. By doing so I have betrayed my father\x92s confidence--he was
obliged to leave home. I hastened here. And yet I promised him, only two
hours ago, that I would never see you again. You hear me--never!\x94

She spoke hurriedly, but Maurice was appalled by the firmness of her
accent.

Had he been less agitated, he would have seen what a terrible effort
this semblance of calmness cost the young girl. He would have understood
it from her pallor, from the contraction of her lips, from the redness
of the eyelids which she had vainly bathed with fresh water, and which
betrayed the tears that had fallen during the night.

\x93If I have come,\x94 she continued, \x93it is only to tell you that, for
your own sake, as well as for mine, there must not remain in the secret
recesses of your heart even the slightest shadow of a hope. All is over;
we are separated forever! Only weak natures revolt against a destiny
which they cannot alter. Let us accept our fate uncomplainingly. I
wished to see you once more, and to say this: Have courage, Maurice. Go
away--leave Escorval--forget me!\x94

\x93Forget you, Marie-Anne!\x94 exclaimed the wretched young man, \x93forget
you!\x94

His eyes met hers, and in a husky voice he added:

\x93Will you then forget me?\x94

\x93I am a woman, Maurice--\x94

But he interrupted her:

\x93Ah! I did not expect this,\x94 he said, despondently. \x93Poor fool that I
was! I believed that you would find a way to touch your father\x92s heart.\x94

She blushed slightly, hesitated, and said:

\x93I have thrown myself at my father\x92s feet; he repulsed me.\x94

Maurice was thunderstruck, but recovering himself:

\x93It was because you did not know how to speak to him!\x94 he exclaimed in
a passion of fury; \x93but I shall know--I will present such arguments that
he will be forced to yield. What right has he to ruin my happiness with
his caprices? I love you---by right of this love, you are mine--mine
rather than his! I will make him understand this, you shall see. Where
is he? Where can I find him?\x94

Already he was starting to go, he knew not where. Marie-Anne caught him
by the arm.

\x93Remain,\x94 she commanded, \x93remain! So you have failed to understand me,
Maurice. Ah, well! you must know the truth. I am acquainted now with the
reasons of my father\x92s refusal; and though his decision should cost me
my life, I approve it. Do not go to find my father. If, moved by your
prayers, he gave his consent, I should have the courage to refuse mine!\x94

Maurice was so beside himself that this reply did not enlighten him.
Crazed with anger and despair, and with no remorse for the insult he
addressed to this woman whom he loved so deeply, he exclaimed:

\x93Is it for Chanlouineau, then, that you are reserving your consent? He
believes so since he goes about everywhere saying that you will soon be
his wife.\x94

Marie-Anne shuddered as if a knife had entered her very heart; and yet
there was more sorrow than anger in the glance she cast upon Maurice.

\x93Must I stoop so low as to defend myself from such an imputation?\x94 she
asked, sadly. \x93Must I declare that if even I suspect such an arrangement
between Chanlouineau and my father, I have not been consulted? Must I
tell you that there are some sacrifices which are beyond the strength
of poor human nature? Understand this: I have found strength to renounce
the man I love--I shall never be able to accept another in his place!\x94

Maurice hung his head, abashed by her earnest words, dazzled by the
sublime expression of her face.

Reason returned; he realized the enormity of his suspicions, and was
horrified with himself for having dared to give utterance to them.

\x93Oh! pardon!\x94 he faltered, \x93pardon!\x94

What did the mysterious causes of all these events which had so rapidly
succeeded each other, or M. Lacheneur\x92s secrets, or Marie-Anne\x92s
reticence, matter to him now?

He was seeking some chance of salvation; he believed that he had found
it.

\x93We must fly!\x94 he exclaimed: \x93fly at once without pausing to look back.
Before night we shall have passed the frontier.\x94

He sprang toward her with outstretched arms, as if to seize her and bear
her away; but she checked him by a single look.

\x93Fly!\x94 said she, reproachfully; \x93fly! and is it you, Maurice, who
counsel me thus? What! while misfortune is crushing my poor father to
the earth, shall I add despair and shame to his sorrows? His friends
have deserted him; shall I, his daughter, also abandon him? Ah! if I
did that, I should be the vilest, the most cowardly of creatures! If
my father, yesterday, when I believed him the owner of Sairmeuse, had
demanded the sacrifice to which I consented last evening, I might,
perhaps, have resolved upon the extreme measure you have counselled. In
broad daylight I might have left Sairmeuse on the arm of my lover. It
is not the world that I fear! But if one might consent to fly from the
chateau of a rich and happy father, one _cannot_ consent to desert the
poor abode of a despairing and penniless parent. Leave me, Maurice,
where honor holds me. It will not be difficult for me, who am the
daughter of generations of peasants, to become a peasant. Go! I cannot
endure more! Go! and remember that one cannot be utterly wretched if
one\x92s conscience is clean, and one\x92s duty fulfilled!\x94

Maurice was about to reply, when a crackling of dry branches made him
turn his head.

Scarcely ten paces off, Martial de Sairmeuse was standing motionless,
leaning upon his gun.



CHAPTER X

The Duc de Sairmeuse had slept little and poorly on the night following
his return, or his restoration, as he styled it.

Inaccessible, as he pretended to be, to the emotions which agitate the
common herd, the scenes of the day had greatly excited him.

He could not help reviewing them, although he made it the rule of his
life never to reflect.

While exposed to the scrutiny of the peasants and of his acquaintances
at the Chateau de Courtornieu, he felt that his honor required him
to appear cold and indifferent, but as soon as he had retired to the
privacy of his own chamber, he gave free vent to his excessive joy.

For his joy _was_ intense, almost verging on delirium.

Now he was forced to admit to himself the immense service Lacheneur had
rendered him in restoring Sairmeuse.

This poor man to whom he had displayed the blackest ingratitude, this
man, honest to heroism, whom he had treated as an unfaithful servant,
had just relieved him of an anxiety which had poisoned his life.

Lacheneur had just placed the Duc de Sairmeuse beyond the reach of a not
probable, but very possible calamity which he had dreaded for some time.

If his secret anxiety had been made known, it would have created much
merriment.

\x93Nonsense!\x94 people would have exclaimed, \x93everyone knows that the
Sairmeuse possesses property to the amount of at least eight or ten
millions, in England.\x94

This was true. Only these millions, which had accrued from the estate of
the duchess and of Lord Holland, had not been bequeathed to the duke.

He enjoyed absolute control of this enormous fortune; he disposed of
the capital and of the immense revenues to please himself; but it all
belonged to his son--to his only son.

The duke possessed nothing--a pitiful income of twelve hundred francs,
perhaps; but, strictly speaking, not even the means of subsistence.

Martial, certainly, had never said a word which would lead him to
suspect that he had any intention of removing his property from his
father\x92s control; but he might possibly utter this word.

Had he not good reason to believe that sooner or later this fatal word
would be uttered?

And even at the thought of such a contingency he shuddered with horror.

He saw himself reduced to a pension, a very handsome pension,
undoubtedly, but still a fixed, immutable, regular pension, by which he
would be obliged to regulate his expenditures.

He would be obliged to calculate that two ends might meet--he, who had
been accustomed to inexhaustible coffers.

\x93And this will necessarily happen sooner or later,\x94 he thought. \x93If
Martial should marry, or if he should become ambitious, or meet with
evil counsellors, that will be the end of my reign.\x94

He watched and studied his son as a jealous woman studies and watches
the lover she mistrusts. He thought he read in his eyes many thoughts
which were not there; and according as he saw him, gay or sad, careless
or preoccupied, he was reassured or still more alarmed.

Sometimes he imagined the worst. \x93If I should quarrel with Martial,\x94 he
thought, \x93he would take possession of his entire fortune, and I should
be left without bread.\x94

These torturing apprehensions were, to a man who judged the sentiments
of others by his own, a terrible chastisement.

Ah! no one would have wished his existence at the price he paid for
it--not even the poor wretches who envied his lot and his apparent
happiness, as they saw him roll by in his magnificent carriage.

There were days when he almost went mad.

\x93What am I?\x94 he exclaimed, foaming with rage. \x93A mere plaything in the
hands of a child. My son owns me. If I displease him, he casts me aside.
Yes, he can dismiss me as he would a lackey. If I enjoy his fortune,
it is only because he is willing that I should do so. I owe my very
existence, as well as my luxuries, to his charity. But a moment of
anger, even a caprice, may deprive me of everything.\x94

With such ideas in his brain, the duke could not love his son.

He hated him.

He passionately envied him all the advantages he possessed--his youth,
his millions, his physical beauty, and his talents, which were really of
a superior order.

We meet every day mothers who are jealous of their daughters, and some
fathers!

This was one of those cases.

The duke, however, showed no sign of mental disquietude; and if Martial
had possessed less penetration, he would have believed that his father
adored him. But if he had detected the duke\x92s secret, he did not allow
him to discover it, nor did he abuse his power.

Their manner toward each other was perfect. The duke was kind even to
weakness; Martial full of deference. But their relations were not those
of father and son. One was in constant fear of displeasing the other;
the other was a little too sure of his power. They lived on a footing of
perfect equality, like two companions of the same age.

From this trying situation, Lacheneur had rescued the duke.

The owner of Sairmeuse, an estate worth more than a million, the duke
was free from his son\x92s tyranny; he had recovered his liberty.

What brilliant projects flitted through his brain that night!

He beheld himself the richest landowner in that locality; he was the
chosen friend of the King; had he not a right to aspire to anything?

Such a prospect enchanted him. He felt twenty years younger--the twenty
years that had been passed in exile.

So, rising before nine o\x92clock, he went to awaken Martial.

On returning from dining with the Marquis de Courtornieu, the
evening before, the duke had gone through the chateau; but this hasty
examination by candle-light had not satisfied his curiosity. He wished
to see it in detail by daylight.

Followed by his son, he explored one after another of the rooms of the
princely abode; and, with every step, the recollections of his infancy
crowded upon him.

Lacheneur had respected everything. The duke found articles as old as
himself, religiously preserved, occupying the old familiar places from
which they had never been removed.

When his inspection was concluded:

\x93Decidedly, Marquis,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93this Lacheneur was not such a
rascal as I supposed. I am disposed to forgive him a great deal, on
account of the care which he has taken of our house in our absence.\x94

Martial seemed engrossed in thought.

\x93I think, Monsieur,\x94 he said, at last, \x93that we should testify our
gratitude to this man by paying him a large indemnity.\x94

This word excited the duke\x92s anger.

\x93An indemnity!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Are you mad, Marquis? Think of the income
that he has received from my estate. Have you forgotten the calculation
made for us last evening by the Chevalier de la Livandiere?\x94

\x93The chevalier is a fool!\x94 declared Martial promptly. \x93He forgot that
Lacheneur has trebled the value of Sairmeuse. I think that our family
honor requires us to bestow upon this man an indemnity of at least
one hundred thousand francs. This would, moreover, be a good stroke of
policy in the present state of public sentiment, and His Majesty would,
I am sure, be much pleased.\x94

\x93Stroke of policy\x94--\x93public sentiment\x94--\x93His Majesty.\x94 One might have
obtained almost anything from M. de Sairmeuse by these arguments.

\x93Heavenly powers!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93a hundred thousand francs! how you
talk! It is all very well for you, with your fortune! Still, if you
really think so----\x94

\x93Ah! my dear sir, is not my fortune yours? Yes, such is really my
opinion. So much so, indeed, that if you will allow me to do so, I will
see Lacheneur myself, and arrange the matter in such a way that his
pride will not be wounded. His is a devotion which it would be well to
retain.\x94

The duke opened his eyes to their widest extent.

\x93Lacheneur\x92s pride!\x94 he murmured. \x93Devotion which it would be well to
retain! Why do you sing in this strain? Whence comes this extraordinary
interest?\x94

He paused, enlightened by a sudden recollection.

\x93I understand!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93I understand. He has a pretty daughter.\x94

Martial smiled without replying.

\x93Yes, pretty as a rose,\x94 continued the duke; \x93but one hundred thousand
francs! Zounds! That is a round sum to pay for such a whim. But, if you
insist upon it----\x94

Armed with this authorization, Martial, two hours later, started on his
mission.

The first peasant he met told him the way to the cottage which M.
Lacheneur now occupied.

\x93Follow the river,\x94 said the man, \x93and when you see a pine-grove upon
your left, cross it.\x94

Martial was crossing it, when he heard the sound of voices. He
approached, recognized Marie-Anne and Maurice d\x92Escorval, and obeying an
angry impulse, he paused.



CHAPTER XI

During the decisive moments of life, when one\x92s entire future depends
upon a word, or a gesture, twenty contradictory inspirations can
traverse the mind in the time occupied by a flash of lightning.

On the sudden apparition of the young Marquis de Sairmeuse, Maurice
d\x92Escorval\x92s first thought was this:

\x93How long has he been there? Has he been playing the spy? Has he been
listening to us? What did he hear?\x94

His first impulse was to spring upon his enemy, to strike him in the
face, and compel him to engage in a hand-to-hand struggle.

The thought of Anne-Marie checked him.

He reflected upon the possible, even probable results of a quarrel born
of such circumstances. The combat which would ensue would cost this pure
young girl her reputation. Martial would talk of it; and country people
are pitiless. He saw this girl, whom he looked so devotedly upon, become
the talk of the neighborhood; saw the finger of scorn pointed at her,
and possessed sufficient self-control to master his anger. All these
reflections had occupied only half a second.

Then, politely touching his hat, and stepping toward Martial:

\x93You are a stranger, Monsieur,\x94 said he, in a voice which was
frightfully altered, \x93and you have doubtless lost your way?\x94 His words
were ill-chosen, and defeated his prudent intentions. A curt \x93Mind your
own business\x94 would have been less wounding. He forgot that this word
\x93stranger\x94 was the most deadly insult that one could cast in the face of
the former _emigres_, who had returned with the allied armies.

Still the young marquis did not change his insolently nonchalant
attitude.

He touched the visor of his hunting cap with his finger, and replied:

\x93It is true--I have lost my way.\x94

Agitated as Marie-Anne was, she could not fail to understand that her
presence was all that restrained the hatred of these two young men.
Their attitude, the glance with which they measured each other, did not
leave the shadow of a doubt on that score. If one was ready to spring
upon the other, the other was on the alert, ready to defend himself.

The silence of nearly a moment which followed was as threatening as the
profound calm which precedes the storm.

Martial was the first to break it.

\x93A peasant\x92s directions are not generally remarkable for their
clearness,\x94 he said, lightly; \x93and for more than an hour I have been
seeking the house to which Monsieur Lacheneur has retired.\x94

\x93Ah!\x94

\x93I am sent to him by the Duc de Sairmeuse, my father.\x94

Knowing what he did, Maurice supposed that these strangely rapacious
individuals had some new demand to make.

\x93I thought,\x94 said he, \x93that all relations between Monsieur Lacheneur and
Monsieur de Sairmeuse were broken off last evening at the house of the
abbe.\x94

This was said in the most provoking manner, and yet Martial never so
much as frowned. He had sworn that he would remain calm, and he had
strength enough to keep his word.

\x93If these relations--as God forbid--have been broken off,\x94 he replied,
\x93believe me, Monsieur d\x92Escorval, it is no fault of ours.\x94

\x93Then it is not as people say?\x94

\x93What people? Who?\x94

\x93The people here in the neighborhood.\x94

\x93Ah! And what do these people say?\x94

\x93The truth. That you have been guilty of an offence which a man of honor
could never forgive nor forget.\x94

The young marquis shook his head gravely.

\x93You are quick to condemn, sir,\x94 he said, coldly. \x93Permit me to hope
that Monsieur Lacheneur will be less severe than yourself; and that his
resentment--just, I confess, will vanish before\x94--he hesitated--\x93before
a truthful explanation.\x94

Such an expression from the lips of this haughty young aristocrat! Was
it possible?

Martial profited by the effect he had produced to advance toward
Marie-Anne, and, addressing himself exclusively to her, seemed after
that to ignore the presence of Maurice completely.

\x93For there has been a mistake--a misunderstanding, Mademoiselle,\x94 he
continued. \x93Do not doubt it. The Sairmeuse are not ingrates. How
could anyone have supposed that we would intentionally give offense
to a--devoted friend of our family, and that at a moment when he had
rendered us a most signal service! A true gentleman like my father, and
a hero of probity like yours, cannot fail to esteem each other. I admit
that in the scene of yesterday, Monsieur de Sairmeuse did not appear to
advantage; but the step he takes today proves his sincere regret.\x94

Certainly this was not the cavalier tone which he had employed in
addressing Marie-Anne, for the first time, on the square in front of the
church.

He had removed his hat, he remained half inclined before her, and
he spoke in a tone of profound respect, as though it were a haughty
duchess, and not the humble daughter of that \x93rascal\x94 Lacheneur whom he
was addressing.

Was it only a _roue\x92s_ manoeuvre? Or had he also involuntarily submitted
to the power of this beautiful girl? It was both; and it would have
been difficult for him to say where the voluntary ended, and where the
involuntary began.

He continued:

\x93My father is an old man who has suffered cruelly. Exile is hard to
bear. But if sorrows and deceptions have embittered his character, they
have not changed his heart. His apparent imperiousness and arrogance
conceal a kindness of heart which I have often seen degenerate into
positive weakness. And--why should I not confess it?--the Duc de
Sairmeuse, with his white hair, still retains the illusions of a child.
He refuses to believe that the world has progressed during the past
twenty years. Moreover, people had deceived him by the most absurd
fabrications. To speak plainly, even while we were in Montaignac,
Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s enemies succeeded in prejudicing my father against
him.\x94

One would have sworn that he was speaking the truth, so persuasive was
his voice, so entirely did the expression of his face, his glance, and
his gestures accord with his words.

And Maurice, who felt--who was certain that the young man was lying,
impudently lying, was abashed by this scientific prevarication which is
so universally practised in good society, and of which he was entirely
ignorant.

But what did the marquis desire here--and why this farce?

\x93Need I tell you, Mademoiselle,\x94 he resumed, \x93all that I suffered last
evening in the little drawing-room in the presbytery? No, never in my
whole life can I recollect such a cruel moment. I understood, and I
did honor to Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s heroism. Hearing of our arrival, he,
without hesitation, without delay, hastened to voluntarily surrender
a princely fortune--and he was insulted. This excessive injustice
horrified me. And if I did not openly protest against it--if I did not
show my indignation--it was only because contradiction drives my father
to the verge of frenzy. And what good would it have done for me to
protest? The filial love and piety which you displayed were far more
powerful in their effect than any words of mine would have been. You
were scarcely out of the village before Monsieur de Sairmeuse, already
ashamed of his injustice, said to me: \x91I have been wrong, but I am an
old man; it is hard for me to decide to make the first advance; you,
Marquis, go and find Monsieur Lacheneur, and obtain his forgiveness.\x92\x94

Marie-Anne, redder than a peony, and terribly embarrassed, lowered her
eyes.

\x93I thank you, Monsieur,\x94 she faltered, \x93in the name of my father--\x94

\x93Oh! do not thank me,\x94 interrupted Martial, earnestly; \x93it will be my
duty, on the contrary, to render you thanks, if you can induce Monsieur
Lacheneur to accept the reparation which is due him--and he will accept
it, if you will only condescend to plead our cause. Who could resist
your sweet voice, your beautiful, beseeching eyes?\x94

However inexperienced Maurice might be, he could no longer fail to
comprehend Martial\x92s intentions. This man whom he mortally hated
already, dared to speak of love to Marie-Anne, and before him, Maurice.
In other words, the marquis, not content with having ignored and
insulted him, presumed to take an insolent advantage of his supposed
simplicity.

The certainty of this insult sent all his blood in a boiling torrent to
his brain.

He seized Martial by the arm, and with irresistible power whirled him
twice around, then threw him more than ten feet, exclaiming:

\x93This last is too much, Marquis de Sairmeuse!\x94

Maurice\x92s attitude was so threatening that Martial fully expected
another attack. The violence of the shock had thrown him down upon one
knee; without rising, he lifted his gun, ready to take aim.

It was not from anything like cowardice on the part of the Marquis de
Sairmeuse that he decided to fire upon an unarmed foe; but the affront
which he had received was so deadly and so ignoble in his opinion, that
he would have shot Maurice like a dog, rather than feel the weight of
his finger upon him again.

This explosion of anger from Maurice Marie-Anne had been expecting and
hoping for every moment.

She was even more inexperienced than her lover; but she was a woman, and
could not fail to understand the meaning of the young marquis.

He was evidently \x93paying his court to her.\x94 And with what intentions! It
was only too easy to divine.

Her agitation, while the marquis spoke in a more and more tender voice,
changed first to stupor, then to indignation, as she realized his
marvellous audacity.

After that, how could she help blessing the violence which put an end
to a situation which was so insulting for her, and so humiliating for
Maurice?

An ordinary woman would have thrown herself between the two men who were
ready to kill each other. Marie-Anne did not move a muscle.

Was it not the duty of Maurice to protect her when she was insulted?
Who, then, if not he, should defend her from the insolent gallantry of
this libertine? She would have blushed, she who was energy personified,
to love a weak and pusillanimous man.

But any intervention was unnecessary. Maurice comprehended that this
was one of those affronts which the person insulted must not seem to
suspect, under penalty of giving the offending party the advantage.

He felt that Marie-Anne must not be regarded as the cause of the
quarrel!

His instant recognition of the situation produced a powerful reaction
in his mind; and he recovered, as if by magic, his coolness and the free
exercise of his faculties.

\x93Yes,\x94 he resumed, defiantly, \x93this is hypocrisy enough. To dare to
prate of reparation after the insults that you and yours have inflicted,
is adding intentional humiliation to insult--and I will not permit it.\x94

Martial had thrown aside his gun; he now rose and brushed the knee of
his pantaloons, to which a few particles of dust had adhered, with a
phlegm whose secret he had learned in England.

He was too discerning not to perceive that Maurice had disguised the
true cause of his outburst of passion; but what did it matter to him?
Had he avowed it, the marquis would not have been displeased.

Yet it was necessary to make some response, and to preserve the
superiority which he imagined he had maintained up to that time.

\x93You will never know, Monsieur,\x94 he said, glancing alternately at his
gun and at Marie-Anne, \x93all that you owe to Mademoiselle Lacheneur. We
shall meet again, I hope--\x94

\x93You have made that remark before,\x94 Maurice interrupted, tauntingly.
\x93Nothing is easier than to find me. The first peasant you meet will
point out the house of Baron d\x92Escorval.\x94

\x93_Eh bien_! sir, I cannot promise that you will not see two of my
friends.\x94

\x93Oh! whenever it may please you!\x94

\x93Certainly; but it would gratify me to know by what right you make
yourself the judge of Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s honor, and take it upon
yourself to defend what has not been attacked. Who has given you this
right?\x94

From Martial\x92s sneering tone, Maurice was certain that he had overheard,
at least a part of, his conversation with Marie-Anne.

\x93My right,\x94 he replied, \x93is that of friendship. If I tell you that your
advances are unwelcome, it is because I know that Monsieur Lacheneur
will accept nothing from you. No, nothing, under whatever guise you may
offer these alms which you tender merely to appease your own conscience.
He will never forgive the affront which is his honor and your shame. Ah!
you thought to degrade him, Messieurs de Sairmeuse! and you have lifted
him far above your mock grandeur. _He_ receive anything from you! Go;
learn that your millions will never give you a pleasure equal to the
ineffable joy he will feel, when seeing you roll by in your carriage, he
says to himself: \x91Those people owe everything to me!\x92\x94

His burning words vibrated with such intensity of feeling that
Marie-Anne could not resist the impulse to press his hand; and this
gesture was his revenge upon Martial, who turned pale with passion.

\x93But I have still another right,\x94 continued Maurice. \x93My father
yesterday had the honor of asking of Monsieur Lacheneur the hand of his
daughter----\x94

\x93And I refused it!\x94 cried a terrible voice.

Marie-Anne and both young men turned with the same movement of alarm and
surprise.

M. Lacheneur stood before them, and by his side was Chanlouineau, who
surveyed the group with threatening eyes.

\x93Yes, I refused it,\x94 resumed M. Lacheneur, \x93and I do not believe that my
daughter will marry anyone without my consent. What did you promise me
this morning, Marie-Anne? Can it be you, you who grant a rendezvous to
gallants in the forest? Return to the house, instantly----\x94

\x93But father----\x94

\x93Return!\x94 he repeated with an oath; \x93return, I command you.\x94

She obeyed and departed, not without giving Maurice a look in which he
read a farewell that she believed would be eternal.

As soon as she had gone, perhaps twenty paces, M. Lacheneur, with folded
arms, confronted Maurice.

\x93As for you, Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 said he, rudely, \x93I hope that you
will no longer undertake to prowl around my daughter----\x94

\x93I swear to you, Monsieur--\x94

\x93Oh, no oaths, if you please. It is an evil action to endeavor to turn
a young girl from her duty, which is obedience. You have broken forever
all relations between your family and mine.\x94

The poor youth tried to excuse himself, but M. Lacheneur interrupted
him.

\x93Enough! enough!\x94 said he; \x93go back to your home.\x94

And as Maurice hesitated, he seized him by the collar and dragged him to
the little footpath leading through the grove.

It was the work of scarcely ten seconds, and yet, he found time to
whisper in the young man\x92s ear, in his formerly friendly tones:

\x93Go, you little wretch! do you wish to render all my precautions
useless?\x94

He watched Maurice as he disappeared, bewildered by the scene he had
just witnessed, and stupefied by what he had just heard; and it was not
until he saw that young d\x92Escorval was out of hearing that he turned to
Martial.

\x93As I have had the honor of meeting you, Monsieur le Marquis,\x94 said he,
\x93I deem it my duty to inform you that Chupin and his sons are searching
for you everywhere. It is at the instance of the duke, your father, who
is anxious for you to repair at once to the Chateau de Courtornieu.\x94

He turned to Chanlouineau, and added:

\x93We will now proceed on our way.\x94

But Martial detained him with a gesture.

\x93I am much surprised to hear that they are seeking me,\x94 said he. \x93My
father knows very well where he sent me; I was going to your house,
Monsieur, and at his request.\x94

\x93To my house?\x94

\x93To your house, yes, Monsieur, to express our sincere regret at the
scene which took place at the presbytery last evening.\x94

And without waiting for any response, Martial, with wonderful cleverness
and felicity of expression, began to repeat to the father the story
which he had just related to the daughter.

According to his version, his father and himself were in despair. How
could M. Lacheneur suppose them guilty of such black ingratitude?
Why had he retired so precipitately? The Duc de Sairmeuse held at
M. Lacheneur\x92s disposal any amount which it might please him to
mention--sixty, a hundred thousand francs, even more.

But M. Lacheneur did not appear to be dazzled in the least; and when
Martial had concluded, he replied, respectfully, but coldly, that he
would consider the matter.

This coldness amazed Chanlouineai; he did not conceal the fact when
the marquis, after many earnest protestations, at last wended his way
homeward.

\x93We have misjudged these people,\x94 he declared.

But M. Lacheneur shrugged his shoulders.

\x93And so you are foolish enough to suppose that it was to me that he
offered all that money?\x94

\x93Zounds! I have ears.\x94

\x93Ah, well! my poor boy, you must not believe all they hear, if you have.
The truth is, that these large sums were intended to win the favor of my
daughter. She has pleased this coxcomb of a marquis; and--he wishes to
make her his mistress----\x94

Chanlouineau stopped short, with eyes flashing, and hands clinched.

\x93Good God!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93prove that, and I am yours, body and soul--to
do anything you desire.\x94



CHAPTER XII

\x93No, never in my whole life have I met a woman who can compare with this
Marie-Anne! What grace and what dignity! Ah! her beauty is divine!\x94

So Martial was thinking while returning to Sairmeuse after his proposals
to M. Lacheneur.

At the risk of losing his way he took the shortest course, which led
across the fields and over ditches, which he leaped with the aid of his
gun.

He found a pleasure, entirely novel and very delightful, in picturing
Marie-Anne as he had just seen her, blushing and paling, about to swoon,
then lifting her head haughtily in her pride and disdain.

Who would have suspected that such indomitable energy and such an
impassioned soul was hidden beneath such girlish artlessness and
apparent coldness? What an adorable expression illumined her face, what
passion shone in those great black eyes when she looked at that little
fool d\x92Escorval! What would not one give to be regarded thus, even for a
moment? How could the boy help being crazy about her?

He himself loved her, without being, as yet, willing, to confess it.
What other name could be given to this passion which had overpowered
reason, and to the furious desires which agitated him?

\x93Ah!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93she shall be mine. Yes, she shall be mine; I will
have her!\x94

Consequently he began to study the strategic side of the undertaking
which this resolution involved with the sagacity of one who had not been
without an extended experience in such matters.

His debut, he was forced to admit, had been neither fortunate nor
adroit. Conveyed compliments and money had both been rejected. If
Marie-Anne had heard his covert insinuations with evident horror, M.
Lacheneur had received, with even more than coldness, his advances and
his offers of actual wealth.

Moreover, he remembered Chanlouineau\x92s terrible eyes.

\x93How he measured me, that magnificent rustic!\x94 he growled. \x93At a sign
from Marie-Anne he would have crushed me like an eggshell, without a
thought of my ancestors. Ah! does he also love her? There will be three
rivals in that case.\x94

But the more difficult and even perilous the undertaking seemed, the
more his passions were inflamed.

\x93My failures can be repaired,\x94 he thought. \x93Occasions of meeting shall
not be wanting. Will it not be necessary to hold frequent interviews
with Monsieur Lacheneur in effecting a formal transfer of Sairmeuse?
I will win him over to my side. With the daughter my course is plain.
Profiting by my unfortunate experience, I will, in the future, be as
timid as I have been bold; and she will be hard to please if she is
not flattered by this triumph of her beauty. D\x92Escorval remains to be
disposed of----\x94

But this was the point upon which Martial was most exercised.

He had, it is true, seen this rival rudely dismissed by M. Lacheneur;
and yet the anger of the latter had seemed to him too great to be
absolutely real.

He suspected a comedy, but for whose benefit? For his, or for
Chanlouineau\x92s? And yet, what could possibly be the motive?

\x93And yet,\x94 he reflected, \x93my hands are tied; and I cannot call this
little d\x92Escorval to account for his insolence. To swallow such an
affront in silence is hard. Still, he is brave, there is no denying
that; perhaps I can find some other way to provoke his anger. But even
then, what could I do? If I harmed a hair of his head, Marie-Anne would
never forgive me. Ah! I would give a handsome sum in exchange for some
little device to send him out of the country.\x94

Revolving in his mind these plans, whose frightful consequences he could
neither calculate nor foresee, Martial was walking up the avenue leading
to the chateau, when he heard hurried footsteps behind him.

He turned, and seeing two men running after him and motioning him to
stop, he paused.

It was Chupin, accompanied by one of his sons.

This old rascal had been enrolled among the servants charged with
preparing Sairmeuse for the reception of the duke; and he had already
discovered the secret of making himself useful to his master, which was
by seeming to be indispensable.

\x93Ah, Monsieur,\x94 he cried, \x93we have been searching for you everywhere, my
son and I. It was Monsieur le Duc----\x94

\x93Very well,\x94 said Martial, dryly. \x93I am returning----\x94

But Chupin was not sensitive; and although he had not been very
favorably received, he ventured to follow the marquis at a little
distance, but sufficiently near to make himself heard. He also had
his schemes; for it was not long before he began a long recital of the
calumnies which had been spread about the neighborhood in regard to the
Lacheneur affair. Why did he choose this subject in preference to any
other? Did he suspect the young marquis\x92s passion for Marie-Anne?

According to this report, Lacheneur--he no longer said \x93monsieur\x94--was
unquestionably a rascal; the complete surrender of Sairmeuse was only
a farce, as he must possess thousands, and hundreds of thousands of
francs, since he was about to marry his daughter.

If the scoundrel had felt only suspicions, they were changed into
certainty by the eagerness with which Martial demanded:

\x93How! is Mademoiselle Lacheneur to be married?\x94

\x93Yes, Monsieur.\x94

\x93And to whom?\x94

\x93To Chanlouineau, the fellow whom the peasants wished to kill yesterday
upon the square, because he was disrespectful to the duke. He is an
avaricious man; and if Marie-Anne does not bring him a good round sum as
a dowry, he will never marry her, no matter how beautiful she may be.\x94

\x93Are you sure of what you say?\x94

\x93It is true. My eldest son heard from Chanlouineau and from Lacheneur
that the wedding would take place within a month.\x94

And turning to his son:

\x93Is it not true, boy?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 promptly replied the youth, who had heard nothing of the kind.

Martial was silent, ashamed, perhaps, of allowing himself to listen
to the gossip, but glad to have been informed of such an important
circumstance.

If Chupin was not telling a falsehood--and what reason could he have for
doing so--it became evident that M. Lacheneur\x92s conduct concealed some
great mystery. Why, without some potent motive, should he have refused
to give his daughter to Maurice d\x92Escorval whom she loved, to bestow her
upon a peasant?

As he reached Sairmeuse, he was swearing that he would discover this
motive. A strange scene awaited him. In the broad open space extending
from the front of the chateau to the _parterre_ lay a huge pile of all
kinds of clothing, linen, plate, and furniture. One might have supposed
that the occupants of the chateau were moving. A half dozen men were
running to and fro, and standing in the centre of the rubbish was the
Duc de Sairmeuse, giving orders.

Martial did not understand the whole meaning of the scene at first. He
went to his father, and after saluting him respectfully, inquired:

\x93What is all this?\x94

M. de Sairmeuse laughed heartily.

\x93What! can you not guess?\x94 he replied. \x93It is very simple, however. When
the lawful master, on his return, sleeps beneath the bed-coverings of
the usurper, it is delightful, the first night, not so pleasant on the
second. Everything here reminds me too forcibly of Monsieur Lacheneur.
It seems to me that I am in his house; and the thought is unendurable.
So I have had them collect everything belonging to him and to his
daughter--everything, in fact, which did not belong to the chateau in
former years. The servants will put it all into a cart and carry it to
him.\x94

The young marquis gave fervent thanks to Heaven that he had arrived
before it was too late. Had his father\x92s project been executed, he would
have been obliged to bid farewell to all his hopes.

\x93You surely will not do this, Monsieur le Duc?\x94 said he, earnestly.

\x93And why, pray? Who will prevent me from doing it?\x94

\x93No one, most assuredly. But you will decide, on reflection, that a
man who has not conducted himself _too_ badly has a right to some
consideration.\x94

The duke seemed greatly astonished.

\x93Consideration!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93This rascal has a right to some
consideration! Well, this is one of the poorest of jokes. What! I give
him--that is to say--you give him a hundred thousand francs, and that
will not content him! He is entitled to consideration! You, who are
after the daughter, may give it to him if you like, but I shall do as I
like!\x94

\x93Very well; but, Monsieur, I would think twice, if I were in your place.
Lacheneur has surrendered Sairmeuse. That is all very well; but how can
you authenticate your claim to the property? What would you do if, in
case you imprudently irritated him, he should change his mind? What
would become of your right to the estate?\x94

M. Sairmeuse actually turned green.

\x93Zounds!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93I had not thought of that. Here, you fellows,
take all these things back again, and that quickly!\x94

And as they were obeying his order:

\x93Now,\x94 he remarked, \x93let us hasten to Courtornieu. They have already
sent for us twice. It must be business of the utmost importance which
demands our attention.\x94



CHAPTER XIII

The Chateau de Courtornieu is, next to Sairmeuse, the most magnificent
habitation in the _arrondissement_ of Montaignac.

The approach to the castle was by a long and narrow road, badly paved.
When the carriage containing Martial and his father turned from the
public highway into this rough road, the jolting aroused the duke from
the profound revery into which he had fallen on leaving Sairmeuse.

The marquis thought that he had caused this unusual fit of abstraction.

\x93It is the result of my adroit manoeuvre,\x94 he said to himself, not
without secret satisfaction. \x93Until the restitution of Sairmeuse is
legalized, I can make my father do anything I wish; yes, anything. And
if it is necessary, he will even invite Lacheneur and Marie-Anne to his
table.\x94

He was mistaken. The duke had already forgotten the affair; his most
vivid impressions lasted no longer than an indentation in the sand.

He lowered the glass in front of the carriage, and, after ordering the
coachman to drive more slowly:

\x93Now,\x94 said he to his son, \x93let us talk a little. Are you really in love
with that little Lacheneur?\x94

Martial could not repress a start. \x93Oh! in love,\x94 said he, lightly,
\x93that would perhaps be saying too much. Let me say that she has taken my
fancy; that will be sufficient.\x94

The duke regarded his son with a bantering air.

\x93Really, you delight me!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93I feared that this love-affair
might derange, at least for the moment, certain plans that I have
formed--for I have formed certain plans for you.\x94

\x93The devil!\x94

\x93Yes, I have my plans, and I will communicate them to you later in
detail. I will content myself today by recommending you to examine
Mademoiselle Blanche de Courtornieu.\x94

Martial made no reply. This recommendation was entirely unnecessary. If
Mlle. Lacheneur had made him forget Mlle. de Courtornieu that morning
for some moments, the remembrance of Marie-Anne was now effaced by the
radiant image of Blanche.

\x93Before discussing the daughter,\x94 resumed the duke, \x93let us speak of the
father. He is one of my strongest friends; and I know him thoroughly.
You have heard men reproach me for what they style my prejudices, have
you not? Well, in comparison with the Marquis de Courtornieu, I am only
a Jacobin.\x94

\x93Oh! my father!\x94

\x93Really, nothing could be more true. If I am behind the age in which
I live, he belongs to the reign of Louis XIV. Only--for there is an
only--the principles which I openly avow, he keeps locked up in his
snuff-box--and trust him for not forgetting to open it at the opportune
moment. He has suffered cruelly for his opinions, in the sense of having
so often been obliged to conceal them. He concealed them, first, under
the consulate, when he returned from exile. He dissimulated them even
more courageously under the Empire--for he played the part of a kind of
chamberlain to Bonaparte, this dear marquis. But, chut! do not remind
him of that proof of heroism; he has deplored it bitterly since the
battle of Lutzen.\x94

This was the tone in which M. de Sairmeuse was accustomed to speak of
his best friends.

\x93The history of his fortune,\x94 he continued, \x93is the history of his
marriages--I say _marriages_, because he has married a number of times,
and always advantageously. Yes, in a period of fifteen years he has had
the misfortune of losing three wives, each richer than the other. His
daughter is the child of his third and last wife, a Cisse Blossac--she
died in 1809. He comforted himself after each bereavement by purchasing
a quantity of lands or bonds. So that now he is as rich as you are,
Marquis, and his influence is powerful and widespread. I forgot one
detail, however, he believes, they tell me, in the growing power of the
clergy, and has become very devout.\x94

He checked himself; the carriage had stopped before the entrance of
the Chateau de Courtornieu, and the marquis came forward to receive his
guests in person. A nattering distinction, which he seldom lavished upon
his visitors. The marquis was long rather than tall, and very solemn
in deportment. The head that surmounted his angular form was remarkably
small, a characteristic of his race, and covered with thin, glossy black
hair, and lighted by cold, round black eyes.

The pride that becomes a gentleman, and the humility that befits a
Christian, were continually at war with each other in his countenance.

He pressed the hands of M. de Sairmeuse and Martial, overwhelming them
with compliments uttered in a thin, rather nasal voice, which, issuing
from his immense body, was as astonishing as the sound of a flute
issuing from the pipes of an orphicleide would be.

\x93At last you have come,\x94 he said; \x93we were waiting for you before
beginning our deliberations upon a very grave, and also very delicate
matter. We are thinking of addressing a petition to His Majesty. The
nobility, who have suffered so much during the Revolution, have a right
to expect ample compensation. Our neighbors, to the number of sixteen,
are now assembled in my cabinet, transformed for the time into a council
chamber.\x94

Martial shuddered at the thought of all the ridiculous and tiresome
conversation he would probably be obliged to hear; and his father\x92s
recommendation occurred to him.

\x93Shall we not have the honor of paying our respects to Mademoiselle de
Courtornieu?\x94

\x93My daughter must be in the drawing-room with our cousin,\x94 replied
the marquis, in an indifferent tone; \x93at least, if she is not in the
garden.\x94

This might be construed into, \x93Go and look for her if you choose.\x94 At
least Martial understood it in that way; and when they entered the hall,
he allowed his father and the marquis to go upstairs without him.

A servant opened the door of the drawing-room for him--but it was empty.

\x93Very well,\x94 said he; \x93I know my way to the garden.\x94

But he explored it in vain; no one was to be found.

He decided to return to the house and march bravely into the presence of
the dreaded enemy. He had turned to retrace his steps when, through the
foliage of a bower of jasmine, he thought he could distinguish a white
dress.

He advanced softly, and his heart quickened its throbbing when he saw
that he was right.

Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu was seated on a bench beside an old lady,
and was engaged in reading a letter in a low voice.

She must have been greatly preoccupied, since she had not heard
Martial\x92s footsteps approaching.

He was only ten paces from her, so near that he could distinguish
the shadow of her long eyelashes. He paused, holding his breath, in a
delicious ecstasy.

\x93Ah! how beautiful she is!\x94 he thought. Beautiful? no. But pretty, yes;
as pretty as heart could desire, with her great velvety blue eyes
and her pouting lips. She was a blonde, but one of those dazzling and
radiant blondes found only in the countries of the sun; and from her
hair, drawn high upon the top of her head, escaped a profusion of
ravishing, glittering ringlets, which seemed almost to sparkle in the
play of the light breeze.

One might, perhaps, have wished her a trifle larger. But she had the
winning charm of all delicate and _mignonnes_ women; and her figure was
of exquisite roundness, and her dimpled hands were those of an infant.

Alas! these attractive exteriors are often deceitful, as much and even
more so, than the appearances of a man like the Marquis de Courtornieu.

The apparently innocent and artless young girl possessed the parched,
hollow soul of an experienced woman of the world, or of an old courtier.
She had been so petted at the convent, in the capacity of only daughter
of a _grand seigneur_ and millionnaire; she had been surrounded by so
much adulation, that all her good qualities had been blighted in the bud
by the poisonous breath of flattery.

She was only nineteen; and still it was impossible for any person to
have been more susceptible to the charms of wealth and of satisfied
ambition. She dreamed of a position at court as a school-girl dreams of
a lover.

If she had deigned to notice Martial--for she had remarked him--it was
only because her father had told her that this young man would lift his
wife to the highest sphere of power. Thereupon she had uttered a \x93very
well, we will see!\x94 that would have changed an enamoured suitor\x92s love
into disgust.

Martial advanced a few steps, and Mlle. Blanche, on seeing him, sprang
up with a pretty affectation of intense timidity.

Bowing low before her, he said, gently, and with profound deference:

\x93Monsieur de Courtornieu, Mademoiselle, was so kind as to tell me where
I might have the honor of finding you. I had not courage to brave those
formidable discussions inside; but----\x94

He pointed to the letter the young girl held in her hand, and added:

\x93But I fear that I am _de trop_.\x94

\x93Oh! not in the least, Monsieur le Marquis, although this letter which
I have just been reading has, I confess, interested me deeply. It was
written by a poor child in whom I have taken a great interest--whom I
have sent for sometimes when I was lonely--Marie-Anne Lacheneur.\x94

Accustomed from his infancy to the hypocrisy of drawing-rooms, the young
marquis had taught his face not to betray his feelings.

He could have laughed gayly with anguish at his heart; he could have
preserved the sternest gravity when inwardly convulsed with merriment.

And yet, this name of Marie-Anne upon the lips of Mlle. de Courtornieu,
caused his glance to waver.

\x93They know each other!\x94 he thought.

In an instant he was himself again; but Mlle. Blanche had perceived his
momentary agitation.

\x93What can it mean?\x94 she wondered, much disturbed.

Still, it was with the perfect assumption of innocence that she
continued:

\x93In fact, you must have seen her, this poor Marie-Anne, Monsieur le
Marquis, since her father was the guardian of Sairmeuse?\x94

\x93Yes, I have seen her, Mademoiselle,\x94 replied Martial, quietly.

\x93Is she not remarkably beautiful? Her beauty is of an unusual type, it
quite takes one by surprise.\x94

A fool would have protested. The marquis was not guilty of this folly.

\x93Yes, she is very beautiful,\x94 said he.

This apparent frankness disconcerted Mlle. Blanche a trifle; and it was
with an air of hypocritical compassion that she murmured:

\x93Poor girl! What will become of her? Here is her father, reduced to
delving in the ground.\x94

\x93Oh! you exaggerate, Mademoiselle; my father will always preserve
Lacheneur from anything of that kind.\x94

\x93Of course--I might have known that--but where will he find a husband
for Marie-Anne?\x94

\x93One has been found already. I understand that she is to marry a youth
in the neighborhood, who has some property--a certain Chanlouineau.\x94

The artless school-girl was more cunning than the marquis. She had
satisfied herself that she had just grounds for her suspicions; and she
experienced a certain anger on finding him so well informed in regard to
everything that concerned Mlle. Lacheneur.

\x93And do you believe that this is the husband of whom she had dreamed?
Ah, well! God grant that she may be happy; for we were very fond of her,
very--were we not, Aunt Medea?\x94

Aunt Medea was the old lady seated beside Mlle. Blanche.

\x93Yes, very,\x94 she replied.

This aunt, or cousin, rather, was a poor relation whom M. de Courtornieu
had sheltered, and who was forced to pay dearly for her bread; since
Mlle. Blanche compelled her to play the part of echo.

\x93It grieves me to see these friendly relations, which were so dear
to me, broken,\x94 resumed Mlle. de Courtornieu. \x93But listen to what
Marie-Anne has written.\x94

She drew from her belt where she had placed it, Mlle. Lacheneur\x92s letter
and read:


\x93\x91My dear blanche--You know that the Duc de Sairmeuse has returned. The
news fell upon us like a thunder-bolt. My father and I had become
too much accustomed to regard as our own the deposit which had been
intrusted to our fidelity; we have been punished for it. At least, we
have done our duty, and now all is ended. She whom you have called your
friend, will be, hereafter, only a poor peasant girl, as her mother was
before her.\x92\x94


The most subtle observer would have supposed that Mlle. Blanche was
experiencing the keenest emotion. One would have sworn that it was only
by intense effort that she succeeded in restraining her tears--that they
were even trembling behind her long lashes.

The truth was, that she was thinking only of discovering, upon Martial\x92s
face, some indication of his feelings. But now that he was on guard, his
features might have been marble for any sign of emotion they betrayed.
So she continued:


\x93\x91I should utter an untruth if I said that I have not suffered on
account of this sudden change. But I have courage; I shall learn how to
submit. I shall, I hope, have strength to forget, for I _must_ forget!
The remembrances of past felicity would render my present misery
intolerable.\x92\x94


Mlle. de Courtornieu suddenly folded up the letter.

\x93You have heard it, Monsieur,\x94 said she. \x93Can you understand such pride
as that? And they accuse us, daughters of the nobility, of being proud!\x94

Martial made no response. He felt that his altered voice would betray
him. How much more would he have been moved, if he had been allowed to
read the concluding lines:


\x93One must live, my dear Blanche!\x94 added Marie-Anne, \x93and I feel no false
shame in asking you to aid me. I sew very nicely, as you know, and I
could earn my livelihood by embroidery if I knew more people. I will
call to-day at Courtornieu to ask you to give me a list of ladies to
whom I can present myself on your recommendation.\x94


But Mlle. de Courtornieu had taken good care not to allude to the
touching request. She had read the letter to Martial as a test. She
had not succeeded; so much the worse. She rose and accepted his arm to
return to the house.

She seemed to have forgotten her friend, and she was chatting gayly.
When they approached the chateau, she was interrupted by a sound of
voices raised to the highest pitch.

It was the address to the King which was agitating the council convened
in M. de Courtornieu\x92s cabinet.

Mlle. Blanche paused.

\x93I am trespassing upon your kindness, Monsieur. I am boring you with my
silly chat when you should undoubtedly be up there.\x94

\x93Certainly not,\x94 he replied, laughing. \x93What should I do there? The role
of men of action does not begin until the orators have concluded.\x94

He spoke so energetically, in spite of his jesting tone, that Mlle. de
Courtornieu was fascinated. She saw before her, she believed, a man
who, as her father had said, would rise to the highest position in the
political world.

Unfortunately, her admiration was disturbed by a ring of the great bell
that always announces visitors.

She trembled, let go her hold on Martial\x92s arm, and said, very
earnestly:

\x93Ah, no matter. I wish very much to know what is going on up there. If
I ask my father, he will laugh at my curiosity, while you, Monsieur, if
you are present at the conference, you will tell me all.\x94

A wish thus expressed was a command. The marquis bowed and obeyed.

\x93She dismisses me,\x94 he said to himself as he ascended the staircase,
\x93nothing could be more evident; and that without much ceremony. Why the
devil does she wish to get rid of me?\x94

Why? Because a single peal of the bell announced a visitor for Mlle.
Blanche; because she was expecting a visit from her friend; and
because she wished at any cost to prevent a meeting between Martial and
Marie-Anne.

She did not love him, and yet an agony of jealousy was torturing her.
Such was her nature.

Her presentiments were realized. It was, indeed, Mlle. Lacheneur who was
awaiting her in the drawing-room.

The poor girl was paler than usual; but nothing in her manner betrayed
the frightful anguish she had suffered during the past two or three
days.

And her voice, in asking from her former friend a list of \x93customers,\x94
 was as calm and as natural as in other days, when she was asking her to
come and spend an afternoon at Sairmeuse.

So, when the two girls embraced each other, their roles were reversed.

It was Marie-Anne who had been crushed by misfortune; it was Mlle.
Blanche who wept.

But, while writing a list of the names of persons in the neighborhood
with whom she was acquainted, Mlle. de Courtornieu did not neglect
this favorable opportunity for verifying the suspicions which had been
aroused by Martial\x92s momentary agitation.

\x93It is inconceivable,\x94 she remarked to her friend, \x93that the Duc de
Sairmeuse should allow you to be reduced to such an extremity.\x94

Marie-Anne\x92s nature was so royal, that she did not wish an unjust
accusation to rest even upon the man who had treated her father so
cruelly.

\x93The duke is not to blame,\x94 she replied, gently; \x93he offered us a very
considerable sum, this morning, through his son.\x94

Mlle. Blanche started as if a viper had stung her.

\x93So you have seen the marquis, Marie-Anne?\x94

\x93Yes.\x94

\x93Has he been to your house?\x94

\x93He was going there, when he met me in the grove on the waste.\x94

She blushed as she spoke; she turned crimson at the thought of Martial\x92s
impertinent gallantry.

This girl who had just emerged from a convent was terribly experienced;
but she misunderstood the cause of Marie-Anne\x92s confusion. She could
dissimulate, however, and when Marie-Anne went away, Mlle. Blanche
embraced her with every sign of the most ardent affection. But she was
almost suffocated with rage.

\x93What!\x94 she thought; \x93they have met but once, and yet they are so
strongly impressed with each other. Do they love each other already?\x94



CHAPTER XIV

If Martial had faithfully reported to Mlle. Blanche all that he heard in
the Marquis de Courtornieu\x92s cabinet, he would probably have astonished
her a little.

He, himself, if he had sincerely confessed his impressions and his
reflections, would have been obliged to admit that he was greatly
amazed.

But this unfortunate man, who, in days to come, would be compelled to
reproach himself bitterly for the excess of his fanaticism, refused
to confess this truth even to himself. His life was to be spent in
defending prejudices which his own reason condemned.

Forced by Mlle. Blanche\x92s will into the midst of a discussion, he was
really disgusted with the ridiculous and intense greediness of M. de
Courtornieu\x92s noble guests.

Decorations, fortune, honors, power--they desired everything.

They were satisfied that their pure devotion deserved the most
munificent rewards. It was only the most modest who declared that he
would be content with the epaulets of a lieutenant-general.

Many were the recriminations, stinging words, and bitter reproaches.

The Marquis de Courtornieu, who acted as president of the council, was
nearly exhausted with exclaiming:

\x93Be calm, gentlemen, be calm! A little moderation, if you please!\x94

\x93All these men are mad,\x94 thought Martial, with difficulty restraining
an intense desire to laugh; \x93they are insane enough to be placed in a
mad-house.\x94

But he was not obliged to render a report of the _seance_. The
deliberations were soon fortunately interrupted by a summons to dinner.

Mlle. Blanche, when the young marquis rejoined her, quite forgot to
question him about the doings of the council.

In fact, what did the hopes and plans of these people matter to her.

She cared very little about them or about the people themselves, since
they were below her father in rank, and most of them were not as rich.

An absorbing thought--a thought of her future, and of her happiness,
filled her mind to the exclusion of all other subjects.

The few moments that she had passed alone, after Marie-Anne\x92s departure,
she had spent in grave reflection.

Martial\x92s mind and person pleased her. In him were combined all the
qualifications which any ambitious woman would desire in a husband--and
she decided that he should be _her_ husband. Probably she would not have
arrived at this conclusion so quickly, had it not been for the feeling
of jealousy aroused in her heart. But from the very moment that she
could believe or suspect that another woman was likely to dispute the
possession of Martial with her, she desired him.

From that moment she was completely controlled by one of those
strange passions in which the heart has no part, but which take entire
possession of the brain and lead to the worst of follies.

Let the woman whose pulse has never quickened its beating under the
influence of this counterfeit of love, cast the first stone.

That she could be vanquished in this struggle for supremacy; that there
could be any doubt of the result, were thoughts which never once entered
the mind of Mlle. Blanche.

She had been told so often, it had been repeated again and again, that
the man whom she would choose must esteem himself fortunate above all
others.

She had seen her father besieged by so many suitors for her hand.

\x93Besides,\x94 she thought, smiling proudly, as she surveyed her reflection
in the large mirrors; \x93am I not as pretty as Marie-Anne?\x94

\x93Far prettier!\x94 murmured the voice of vanity; \x93and you possess what your
rival does not: birth, wit, the genius of coquetry!\x94

She did, indeed, possess sufficient cleverness and patience to assume
and to sustain the character which seemed most likely to dazzle and to
fascinate Martial.

As to maintaining this character _after_ marriage, if it did not please
her to do so, that was another matter!

The result of all this was that during dinner Mlle. Blanche exercised
all her powers of fascination upon the young marquis.

She was so evidently desirous of pleasing him that several of the guests
remarked it.

Some were even shocked by such a breach of conventionality. But Blanche
de Courtornieu could do as she chose; she was well aware of that. Was
she not the richest heiress for miles and miles around? No slander can
tarnish the brilliancy of a fortune of more than a million in hard cash.

\x93Do you know that those two young people will have a joint income of
between seven and eight hundred thousand francs!\x94 said one old viscount
to his neighbor.

Martial yielded unresistingly to the charm of his position.

How could he suspect unworthy motives in a young girl whose eyes were so
pure, whose laugh rang out with the crystalline clearness of childhood!

Involuntarily he compared her with the grave and thoughtful Marie-Anne,
and his imagination floated from one to the other, inflamed by the
strangeness of the contrast.

He occupied a seat beside Mlle. Blanche at table; and they chatted
gayly, amusing themselves at the expense of the other guests, who were
again conversing upon political matters, and whose enthusiasm waxed
warmer and warmer as course succeeded course.

Champagne was served with the dessert; and the company drank to the
allies whose victorious bayonets had forced a passage for the King to
return to Paris; they drank to the English, to the Prussians, and to the
Russians, whose horses were trampling the crops under foot.

The name of d\x92Escorval heard, above the clink of the glasses, suddenly
aroused Martial from his dream of enchantment.

An old gentleman had just risen, and proposed that active measures
should be taken to rid the neighborhood of the Baron d\x92Escorval.

\x93The presence of such a man dishonors our country,\x94 said he, \x93he is a
frantic Jacobin, and admitted to be dangerous, since Monsieur Fouche
has him upon his list of suspected persons; and he is even now under the
surveillance of the police.\x94

This discourse could not have failed to arouse intense anxiety in M.
d\x92Escorval\x92s breast had he seen the ferocity expressed on almost every
face.

Still no one spoke; hesitation could be read in every eye.

Martial, too, had turned so white that Mlle. Blanche remarked his pallor
and thought he was ill.

In fact, a terrible struggle was going on in the soul of the young
marquis; a conflict between his honor and passion.

Had he not longed only a few hours before to find some way of driving
Maurice from the country?

Ah, well! the opportunity he so ardently desired now presented itself.
It was impossible to imagine a better one. If the proposed step was
taken the Baron d\x92Escorval and his family would be forced to leave
France forever!

The company hesitated; Martial saw it, and felt that a single word from
him, for or against, would decide the matter.

After a few minutes of frightful uncertainty, honor triumphed.

He rose and declared that the proposed measure was bad--impolitic.

\x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 he remarked, \x93is one of those men who diffuse
around them a perfume of honesty and justice. Have the good sense to
respect the consideration which is justly his.\x94

As he had foreseen, his words decided the matter. The cold and haughty
manner which he knew so well how to assume, his few but incisive words,
produced a great effect.

\x93It would evidently be a great mistake!\x94 was the general cry.

Martial reseated himself; Mlle. Blanche leaned toward him.

\x93You have done well,\x94 she murmured; \x93you know how to defend your
friends.\x94

\x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval is not my friend,\x94 replied Martial, in a voice
which revealed the struggle through which he had passed. \x93The injustice
of the proposed measure incensed me, that is all.\x94

Mlle. de Courtornieu was not to be deceived by an explanation like this.
Still she added:

\x93Then your conduct is all the more grand, Monsieur.\x94

But such was not the opinion of the Duc de Sairmeuse. On returning to
the chateau some hours later he reproached his son for his intervention.

\x93Why the devil did you meddle with the matter?\x94 inquired the duke. \x93I
would not have liked to take upon myself the odium of the proposition,
but since it had been made----\x94

\x93I was anxious to prevent such an act of useless folly!\x94

\x93Useless folly! Zounds! Marquis, you carry matters with a high hand. Do
you think that this d----d baron adores you? What would you say if you
heard that he was conspiring against us?\x94

\x93I should answer with a shrug of the shoulders.\x94

\x93You would! Very well; do me the favor to question Chupin.\x94



CHAPTER XV

It was only two weeks since the Duc de Sairmeuse had returned to France;
he had not yet had time to shake the dust of exile from his feet, and
already his imagination saw enemies on every side.

He had been at Sairmeuse only two days, and yet he unhesitatingly
accepted the venomous reports which Chupin poured into his ears.

The suspicions which he was endeavoring to make Martial share were
cruelly unjust.

At the moment when the duke accused the baron of conspiring against the
house of Sairmeuse, that unfortunate man was weeping at the bedside of
his son, who was, he believed, at the point of death.

Maurice was indeed dangerously ill.

His excessively nervous organization had succumbed before the rude
assaults of destiny.

When, in obedience to M. Lacheneur\x92s imperative order, he left the grove
on the Reche, he lost the power of reflecting calmly and deliberately
upon the situation.

Marie-Anne\x92s incomprehensible obstinacy, the insults he had received
from the marquis, and Lacheneur\x92s feigned anger were mingled in
inextricable confusion, forming one immense, intolerable misfortune, too
crushing for his powers of resistance.

The peasants who met him on his homeward way were struck by his singular
demeanor, and felt convinced that some great catastrophe had just
befallen the house of the Baron d\x92Escorval.

Some bowed; others spoke to him, but he did not see or hear them.

Force of habit--that physical memory which mounts guard when the mind is
far away--brought him back to his home.

His features were so distorted with suffering that Mme. d\x92Escorval, on
seeing him, was seized with a most sinister presentiment, and dared not
address him.

He spoke first.

\x93All is over!\x94 he said, hoarsely, \x93but do not be worried, mother; I have
some courage, as you shall see.\x94

He did, in fact, seat himself at the table with a resolute air. He ate
even more than usual; and his father noticed, without alluding to it,
that he drank much more wine than usual.

He was very pale, his eyes glittered, his gestures were excited, and his
voice was husky. He talked a great deal, and even jested.

\x93Why will he not weep,\x94 thought Mme. d\x92Escorval; \x93then I should not be
so much alarmed, and I could try to comfort him.\x94

This was Maurice\x92s last effort. When dinner was over he went to his
room, and when his mother, who had gone again and again to listen at his
door, finally decided to enter his chamber, she found him lying upon the
bed, muttering incoherently.

She approached him. He did not appear to recognize or even to see her.
She spoke to him. He did not seem to hear. His face was scarlet, his
lips were parched. She took his hand; it was burning; and still he was
shivering, and his teeth were chattering as if with cold.

A mist swam before the eyes of the poor woman; she feared she was about
to faint; but, summoning all her strength, she conquered her weakness
and, dragging herself to the staircase, she cried:

\x93Help! help! My son is dying!\x94

With a bound M. d\x92Escorval reached his son\x92s chamber, looked at him
and dashed out again, summoned a servant, and ordered him to gallop to
Montaignac and bring a physician without a moment\x92s delay.

There was, indeed, a doctor at Sairmeuse, but he was the most stupid
of men--a former surgeon in the army, who had been dismissed for
incompetency. The peasants shunned him as they would the plague; and in
case of sickness always sent for the cure. M. d\x92Escorval followed their
example, knowing that the physician from Montaignac could not arrive
until nearly morning.

Abbe Midon had never frequented the medical schools, but since he had
been a priest the poor so often asked advice of him that he applied
himself to the study of medicine, and, aided by experience, he had
acquired a knowledge of the art which would have won him a diploma from
the faculty anywhere.

At whatever hour of the day or night parishioners came to ask his
assistance, he was always ready--his only answer: \x93Let us go at once.\x94

And when the people of the neighborhood met him on the road with his
little box of medicine slung over his shoulder, they took off their hats
respectfully and stood aside to let him pass. Those who did not respect
the priest honored the man.

For M. d\x92Escorval, above all others, Abbe Midon would make haste. The
baron was his friend; and a terrible apprehension seized him when he saw
Mme. d\x92Escorval at the gate watching for him. By the way in which
she rushed to meet him, he thought she was about to announce some
irreparable misfortune. But no--she took his hand, and, without uttering
a word, she led him to her son\x92s chamber.

The condition of the poor youth was really very critical; the abbe
perceived this at a glance, but it was not hopeless.

\x93We will get him out of this,\x94 he said, with a smile that reawakened
hope.

And with the coolness of an old practitioner, he bled him freely, and
ordered applications of ice to his head.

In a moment all the household were busied in fulfilling the cure\x92s
orders. He took advantage of the opportunity to draw the baron aside in
the embrasure of a window.

\x93What has happened?\x94 he asked.

\x93A disappointment in love,\x94 M. d\x92Escorval replied, with a despairing
gesture. \x93Monsieur Lacheneur has refused the hand of his daughter, which
I asked in behalf of my son. Maurice was to have seen Marie-Anne to-day.
What passed between them I do not know. The result you see.\x94

The baroness re-entered the room, and the two men said no more. A truly
funereal silence pervaded the apartment, broken only by the moans of
Maurice.

His excitement instead of abating had increased in violence. Delirium
peopled his brain with phantoms; and the name of Marie-Anne, Martial de
Sairmeuse and Chanlouineau dropped so incoherently from his lips that it
was impossible to read his thoughts.

How long that night seemed to M. d\x92Escorval and his wife, those only
know who have counted each second beside the sick-bed of some loved one.

Certainly their confidence in the companion in their vigil was great;
but he was not a regular physician like the other, the one whose coming
they awaited.

Just as the light of the morning made the candles turn pale, they heard
the furious gallop of a horse, and soon the doctor from Montaignac
entered.

He examined Maurice carefully, and, after a short conference with the
priest:

\x93_I_ see no immediate danger,\x94 he declared. \x93All that can be done
has been done. The malady must be allowed to take its course. I will
return.\x94

He did return the next day and many days after, for it was not until a
week had passed that Maurice was declared out of danger.

Then he confided to his father all that had taken place in the grove
on the Reche. The slightest detail of the scene had engraved itself
indelibly upon his memory. When the recital was ended:

\x93Are you quite sure,\x94 asked his father, \x93that you correctly understood
Marie-Anne\x92s reply? Did she tell you that if her father gave his consent
to your marriage, she would refuse hers?\x94

\x93Those were her very words.\x94

\x93And still she loves you?\x94

\x93I am sure of it.\x94

\x93You were not mistaken in Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s tone when he said to
you: \x91Go, you little wretch! do you wish to render all my precautions
useless?\x92\x94

\x93No.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval sat for a moment in silence.

\x93This passes comprehension,\x94 he murmured at last. And so low that his
son could not hear him, he added: \x93I will see Lacheneur to-morrow; this
mystery must be explained.\x94



CHAPTER XVI

The cottage where M. Lacheneur had taken refuge was situated on a hill
overlooking the water.

It was, as he had said, a small and humble dwelling, but it was rather
less miserable than the abodes of most of the peasants of the district.

It was only one story high, but it was divided into three rooms, and the
roof was covered with thatch.

In front was a tiny garden, in which a few fruit-trees, some withered
cabbages, and a vine which covered the cottage to the roof, managed to
find subsistence.

This garden was a mere nothing, but even this slight conquest over
the sterility of the soil had cost Lacheneur\x92s deceased aunt almost
unlimited courage and patience.

For more than twenty years the poor woman had never, for a single day,
failed to throw upon her garden three or four basketfuls of richer soil,
which she was obliged to bring more than half a league.

It had been more than a year since she died; but the little pathway
which her patient feet had worn in the performance of this daily task
was still distinctly visible.

This was the path which M. d\x92Escorval, faithful to his resolution, took
the following day, in the hope of wresting from Marie-Anne\x92s father the
secret of his inexplicable conduct.

He was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he failed to notice the
overpowering heat as he climbed the rough hill-side in the full glare of
the noonday sun.

When he reached the summit, however, he paused to take breath; and while
wiping the perspiration from his brow, he turned to look back on the
road which he had traversed.

It was the first time he had visited the spot, and he was surprised at
the extent of the landscape which stretched before him.

From this point, which is the most elevated in the surrounding country,
one can survey the entire valley of the Oiselle, and discern, in the
distance, the redoubtable citadel of Montaignac, built upon an almost
inaccessible rock.

This last circumstance, which the baron was afterward doomed to recall
in the midst of the most terrible scenes, did not strike him then.
Lacheneur\x92s house absorbed all his attention.

His imagination pictured vividly the sufferings of this unfortunate man,
who, only two days before, had relinquished the splendors of the Chateau
de Sairmeuse to repair to this wretched abode.

He rapped at the door of the cottage.

\x93Come in!\x94 said a voice.

The baron lifted the latch and entered.

The room was small, with un-white-washed walls, but with no other floor
than the ground; no ceiling save the thatch that formed the roof.

A bed, a table and two wooden benches constituted the entire furniture.

Seated upon a stool, near the tiny window, sat Marie-Anne, busily at
work upon a piece of embroidery.

She had abandoned her former mode of dress, and her costume was that
worn by the peasant girls.

When M. d\x92Escorval entered she rose, and for a moment they remained
silently standing, face to face, she apparently calm, he visibly
agitated.

He was looking at Marie-Anne; and she seemed to him transfigured. She
was much paler and considerably thinner; but her beauty had a strange
and touching charm--the sublime radiance of heroic resignation and of
duty nobly fulfilled.

Still, remembering his son, he was astonished to see this tranquillity.

\x93You do not ask me for news of Maurice,\x94 he said, reproachfully.

\x93I had news of him this morning, Monsieur, as I have had every day. I
know that he is improving; and that, since day before yesterday, he has
been allowed to take a little nourishment.\x94

\x93You have not forgotten him, then?\x94

She trembled; a faint blush suffused throat and forehead, but it was in
a calm voice that she replied:

\x93Maurice knows that it would be impossible for me to forget him, even if
I wished to do so.\x94

\x93And yet you have told him that you approve your father\x92s decision!\x94

\x93I told him so, Monsieur, and I shall have the courage to repeat it.\x94

\x93But you have made Maurice wretched, unhappy, child; he has almost
died.\x94

She raised her head proudly, sought M. d\x92Escorval\x92s eyes, and when she
had found them:

\x93Look at me, Monsieur. Do you think that I, too, do not suffer?\x94

M. d\x92Escorval was abashed for a moment; but recovering himself, he took
Marie-Anne\x92s hand, and pressing it affectionately, he said:

\x93So Maurice loves you; you love him; you suffer; he has nearly died, and
still you reject him!\x94

\x93It must be so, Monsieur.\x94

\x93You say this, my dear child--you say this, and you undoubtedly believe
it. But I, who have sought to discover the necessity of this immense
sacrifice, have failed to find it. Explain to me, then, why this must be
so, Marie-Anne. Who knows but you are frightened by chimeras, which my
experience can scatter with a breath? Have you no confidence in me? Am
I not an old friend? It may be that your father, in his despair,
has adopted extreme resolutions. Speak, let us combat them together.
Lacheneur knows how devotedly I am attached to him. I will speak to him;
he will listen to _me_.\x94

\x93_I_ can tell you nothing, Monsieur.\x94

\x93What! you are so cruel as to remain inflexible when a father entreats
you on his knees--a father who says to you: \x91Marie-Anne, you hold in
your hands the happiness, the life, the reason of my son----\x92\x94

Tears glittered in Marie-Anne\x92s eyes, but she drew away her hand.

\x93Ah! it is you who are cruel, Monsieur; it is you who are without pity.
Do you not see what I suffer, and that it is impossible for me to endure
further torture? No, I have nothing to tell you; there is nothing
you can say to my father. Why do you seek to impair my courage when I
require it all to struggle against my despair? Maurice must forget me;
he must never see me again. This is fate; and he must not fight against
it. It would be folly. We are parted forever. Beseech Maurice to leave
the country, and if he refuses, you, who are his father, must command
him to do so. And you, too, Monsieur, in Heaven\x92s name, flee from us.
We shall bring misfortune upon you. Never return here; our house is
accursed. The fate that overshadows us will ruin you also.\x94

She spoke almost wildly. Her voice was so loud that it penetrated an
adjoining room.

The communicating door opened and M. Lacheneur appeared upon the
threshold.

At the sight of M. d\x92Escorval he uttered an oath. But there was more
sorrow and anxiety than anger in his manner, as he said:

\x93You, Monsieur, you here!\x94

The consternation into which Marie-Anne\x92s words had thrown M. d\x92Escorval
was so intense that it was with great difficulty he stammered out a
response.

\x93You have abandoned us entirely; I was anxious about you. Have you
forgotten our old friendship? I come to you----\x94

The brow of the former master of Sairmeuse remained overcast.

\x93Why did you not inform me of the honor that the baron had done me,
Marie-Anne?\x94 he said sternly.

She tried to speak, but could not; and it was the baron who replied:

\x93Why, I have but just come, my dear friend.\x94

M. Lacheneur looked suspiciously, first at his daughter, then at the
baron.

\x93What did they say to each other while they were alone?\x94 he was
evidently wondering.

But, however great may have been his disquietude, he seemed to master
it; and it was with his old-time affability of manner that he invited M.
d\x92Escorval to follow him into the adjoining room.

\x93It is my reception-room and my cabinet combined,\x94 he said, smiling.

This room, which was much larger than the first, was as scantily
furnished; but it contained several piles of small books and an infinite
number of tiny packages.

Two men were engaged in arranging and sorting these articles.

One was Chanlouineau.

M. d\x92Escorval did not remember that he had ever seen the other, who was
a young man.

\x93This is my son, Jean, Monsieur,\x94 said Lacheneur. \x93He has changed since
you last saw him ten years ago.\x94

It was true. It had been, at least, ten years since the baron had seen
Lacheneur\x92s son.

How time flies! He had left him a boy; he found him a man.

Jean was just twenty; but his haggard features and his precocious beard
made him appear much older.

He was tall and well formed, and his face indicated more than average
intelligence.

Still he did not impress one favorably. His restless eyes were always
invading yours; and his smile betrayed an unusual degree of shrewdness,
amounting almost to cunning.

As his father presented him, he bowed profoundly; but he was very
evidently out of temper.

M. Lacheneur resumed:

\x93Having no longer the means to maintain Jean in Paris, I have made him
return. My ruin will, perhaps, be a blessing to him. The air of great
cities is not good for the son of a peasant. Fools that we are, we
send them there to teach them to rise above their fathers. But they do
nothing of the kind. They think only of degrading themselves.\x94

\x93Father,\x94 interrupted the young man; \x93father, wait, at least, until we
are alone!\x94

\x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval is not a stranger.\x94 Chanlouineau evidently sided
with the son, since he made repeated signs to M. Lacheneur to be silent.

Either he did not see them, or he pretended not to see them, for he
continued:

\x93I must have wearied you, Monsieur, by telling you again and again: \x91I
am pleased with my son. He has a commendable ambition; he is working
faithfully; he will succeed.\x92 Ah! I was a poor, foolish father! The
friend who carried Jean the order to return has enlightened me, to my
sorrow. This model young man you see here left the gaming-house only to
run to public balls. He was in love with a wretched little ballet-girl
in some low theatre; and to please this creature, he also went upon the
stage, with his face painted red and white.\x94

\x93To appear upon the stage is not a crime.\x94

\x93No; but it is a crime to deceive one\x92s father and to affect virtues
which one does not possess! Have I ever refused you money? No.
Notwithstanding that, you have contracted debts everywhere, and you owe
at least twenty thousand francs.\x94

Jean hung his head; he was evidently angry, but he feared his father.

\x93Twenty thousand francs!\x94 repeated M. Lacheneur. \x93I had them a fortnight
ago; now I have nothing. I can hope to obtain this sum only through
the generosity of the Duc de Sairmeuse and his son.\x94 These words from
Lacheneur\x92s lips astonished the baron.

Lacheneur perceived it, and it was with every appearance of sincerity
and good faith that he resumed:

\x93Does what _I say_ surprise you? I understand why. My anger at first
made me give utterance to all sorts of absurd threats. But I am calm
now, and I realize my injustice. What could I expect the duke to do? To
make me a present of Sairmeuse? He was a trifle brusque, I confess, but
that is his way; at heart he is the best of men.\x94

\x93Have you seen him again?\x94

\x93No; but I have seen his son. I have even been with him to the chateau
to designate the articles which I desire to keep. Oh! he refused me
nothing. Everything was placed at my disposal--everything. I selected
what I wished--furniture, clothing, linen. It is all to be brought here;
and I shall be quite a _grand seigneur_.\x94

\x93Why not seek another house? This----\x94

\x93This pleases me, Monsieur. Its situation suits me perfectly.\x94

In fact, why should not the Sairmeuse have regretted their odious
conduct? Was it impossible that Lacheneur, in spite of his indignation,
should conclude to accept honorable separation? Such were M.
d\x92Escorval\x92s reflections.

\x93To say that the marquis has been kind is saying too little,\x94 continued
Lacheneur. \x93He has shown us the most delicate attentions. For example,
having noticed how much Marie-Anne regrets the loss of her flowers,
he has declared that he is going to send her plants to stock our small
garden, and that they shall be renewed every month.\x94

Like all passionate men, M. Lacheneur overdid his part. This last remark
was too much; it awakened a sinister suspicion in M. d\x92Escorval\x92s mind.

\x93Good God!\x94 he thought, \x93does this wretched man meditate some crime?\x94

He glanced at Chanlouineau, and his anxiety increased. On hearing the
names of the marquis and of Marie-Anne, the robust farmer had turned
livid. \x93It is decided,\x94 said Lacheneur, with an air of the lost
satisfaction, \x93that they will give me the ten thousand francs bequeathed
to me by Mademoiselle Armande. Moreover, I am to fix upon such a sum as
I consider a just recompense for my services. And that is not all; they
have offered me the position of manager at Sairmeuse; and I was to be
allowed to occupy the gamekeeper\x92s cottage, where I lived so long. But
on reflection I refused this offer. After having enjoyed for so long
a time a fortune which did not belong to me, I am anxious to amass a
fortune of my own.\x94

\x93Would it be indiscreet in me to inquire what you intend to do?\x94

\x93Not the least in the world. I am going to turn pedler.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval could not believe his ears. \x93Pedler?\x94 he repeated.

\x93Yes, Monsieur. Look, there is my pack in that corner.\x94

\x93But this is absurd!\x94 exclaimed M. d\x92Escorval. \x93People can scarcely earn
their daily bread in this way.\x94

\x93You are wrong, Monsieur. I have considered the subject carefully; the
profits are thirty per cent. And if besides, there will be three of us
to sell goods, for I shall confide one pack to my son, and another to
Chanlouineau.\x94

\x93What! Chanlouineau?\x94

\x93He has become my partner in the enterprise.\x94

\x93And his farm--who will take care of that?\x94

\x93He will employ day-laborers.\x94

And then, as if wishing to make M. d\x92Escorval understand that his visit
had lasted quite long enough, Lacheneur began arranging the little
packages which were destined to fill the pack of the travelling
merchant.

But the baron was not to be gotten rid of so easily, now that his
suspicions had become almost a certainty.

\x93_I_ must speak with you,\x94 he said, brusquely.

M. Lacheneur turned.

\x93_I_ am very busy,\x94 he replied, with a very evident reluctance.

\x93_I_ ask only five minutes. But if you have not the time to spare
to-day, I will return to-morrow--day after to-morrow--and every day
until I can see you in private.\x94

Lacheneur saw plainly that it would be impossible to escape this
interview, so, with the gesture of a man who resigns himself to a
necessity, addressing his son and Chanlouineau, he said:

\x93Go outside for a few moments.\x94

They obeyed, and as soon as the door had closed behind them, Lacheneur
said:

\x93I know very well, Monsieur, the arguments you intend to advance; and
the reason of your coming. You come to ask me again for Marie-Anne.
I know that my refusal has nearly killed Maurice. Believe me, I have
suffered cruelly at the thought; but my refusal is none the less
irrevocable. There is no power in the world capable of changing my
resolution. Do not ask my motives; I shall not reveal them; but rest
assured that they are sufficient.\x94

\x93Are we not your friends?\x94

\x93You, Monsieur!\x94 exclaimed Lacheneur, in tones of the most lively
affection, \x93you! ah! you know it well! You are the best, the only
friends, I have here below. I should be the basest and the most
miserable of men if I did not guard the recollection of all your
kindnesses until my eyes close in death. Yes, you are my friends; yes, I
am devoted to you--and it is for that very reason that I answer: no, no,
never!\x94

There could no longer be any doubt. M. d\x92Escorval seized Lacheneur\x92s
hands, and almost crushing them in his grasp:

\x93Unfortunate man!\x94 he exclaimed, hoarsely, \x93what do you intend to do? Of
what terrible vengeance are you dreaming?\x94

\x93I swear to you----\x94

\x93Oh! do not swear. You cannot deceive a man of my age and of my
experience. I divine your intentions--you hate the Sairmeuse family more
mortally than ever.\x94

\x93I?\x94

\x93Yes, you; and if you pretend to forget it, it is only that they may
forget it. These people have offended you too cruelly not to fear you;
you understand this, and you are doing all in your power to reassure
them. You accept their advances--you kneel before them--why? Because
they will be more completely in your power when you have lulled their
suspicions to rest, and then you can strike them more surely----\x94

He paused; the communicating door opened, and Marie-Anne appeared upon
the threshold.

\x93Father,\x94 said she, \x93here is the Marquis de Sairmeuse.\x94

This name, which Marie-Anne uttered in a voice of such perfect
composure, in the midst of this excited discussion, possessed such a
powerful significance, that M. d\x92Escorval stood as if petrified.

\x93He dares to come here!\x94 he thought. \x93How can it be that he does not
fear the walls will fall and crush him?\x94

M. Lacheneur cast a withering glance at his daughter. He suspected her
of a ruse which would force him to reveal his secret. For a second, the
most furious passion contracted his features.

But, by a prodigious effort of will, he succeeded in regaining his
composure. He sprang to the door, pushed Marie-Anne aside, and leaning
out, he said:

\x93Deign to excuse me, Monsieur, if I take the liberty of asking you to
wait a moment; I am just finishing some business, and I will be with you
in a moment.\x94

Neither agitation nor anger could be detected in his voice; but, rather,
a respectful deference, and a feeling of profound gratitude.

Having said this, he closed the door and turned to M. d\x92Escorval.

The baron, still standing with folded arms, had witnessed this scene
with the air of a man who distrusts the evidence of his own senses; and
yet he understood the meaning of it only too well.

\x93So this young man comes here?\x94 he said to Lacheneur.

\x93Almost every day--not at this hour, usually, but a trifle later.\x94

\x93And you receive him? you welcome him?\x94

\x93Certainly, Monsieur. How can I be insensible to the honor he confers
upon me? Moreover, we have subjects of mutual interest to discuss. We
are now occupied in legalizing the restitution of Sairmeuse. I can,
also, give him much useful information, and many hints regarding the
management of the property.\x94

\x93And do you expect to make me, your old friend, believe that a man of
your superior intelligence is deceived by the excuses the marquis makes
for these frequent visits? Look me in the eye, and then tell me, if you
dare, that you believe these visits are addressed to you!\x94

Lacheneur\x92s eye did not waver.

\x93To whom else could they be addressed?\x94 he inquired.

This obstinate serenity disappointed the baron\x92s expectations. He could
not have received a heavier blow.

\x93Take care, Lacheneur,\x94 he said, sternly. \x93Think of the situation in
which you place your daughter, between Chanlouineau, who wishes to make
her his wife, and Monsieur de Sairmeuse, who desires to make her----\x94

\x93Who desires to make her his mistress--is that what you mean? Oh, say
the word. But what does that matter? I am sure of Marie-Anne.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval shuddered.

\x93In other words,\x94 said he, in bitter indignation, \x93you make your
daughter\x92s honor and reputation your stake in the game you are playing.\x94

This was too much. Lacheneur could restrain his furious passion no
longer.

\x93Well, yes!\x94 he exclaimed, with a frightful oath, \x93yes, you have spoken
the truth. Marie-Anne must be, and will be, the instrument of my plans.
A man situated as I am is free from the considerations that restrain
other men. Fortune, friends, life, honor--I have been forced to
sacrifice all. Perish my daughter\x92s virtue--perish my daughter
herself--what do they matter, if I can but succeed?\x94

He was terrible in his fanaticism; and in his mad excitement he clinched
his hands as if he were threatening some invisible enemy; his eyes were
wild and bloodshot.

The baron seized him by the coat as if to prevent his escape.

\x93You admit it, then?\x94 he said. \x93You wish to revenge yourself on the
Sairmeuse family, and you have made Chanlouineau your accomplice?\x94

But Lacheneur, with a sudden movement, freed himself.

\x93I admit nothing,\x94 he replied. \x93And yet I wish to reassure you----\x94

He raised his hand as if to take an oath, and in a solemn voice, he
said:

\x93Before God, who hears my words, by all that I hold sacred in this
world, by the memory of my sainted wife who lies beneath the sod, I
swear that I am plotting nothing against the Sairmeuse family; that
I had no thought of touching a hair of their heads. I use them only
because they are absolutely indispensable to me. They will aid me
without injuring themselves.\x94

Lacheneur, this time, spoke the truth. His hearer felt it; still he
pretended to doubt. He thought by retaining his own self-possession,
and exciting the anger of this unfortunate man still more, he might,
perhaps, discover his real intentions. So it was with an air of
suspicion that he said:

\x93How can one believe this assurance after the avowal you have just
made?\x94

Lacheneur saw the snare; he regained his self-possession as if by magic.

\x93So be it, Monsieur, refuse to believe me. But you will wring from me
only one more word on this subject. I have said too much already. I know
that you are guided solely by friendship for me; my gratitude is great,
but I cannot reply to your question. The events of the past few days
have dug a deep abyss between you and me. Do not endeavor to pass it.
Why should we ever meet again? I must say to you, what I said only
yesterday to Abbe Midon. If you are my friend, you will never come here
again--never--by night or by day, or under any pretext whatever. Even if
they tell you that I am dying, do not come. This house is fatal. And if
you meet me, turn away; shun me as you would a pestilence whose touch is
deadly!\x94

The baron was silent. This was in substance what Marie-Anne had said to
him, only under another form.

\x93But there is still a wiser course that you might pursue. Everything
here is certain to augment the sorrow and despair which afflicts your
son. There is not a path, nor a tree, nor a flower which does not
cruelly remind him of his former happiness. Leave this place; take him
with you, and go far away.\x94

\x93Ah! how can I do this? Fouche has virtually imprisoned me here.\x94

\x93All the more reason why you should listen to my advice. You were a
friend of the Emperor, hence you are regarded with suspicion; you are
surrounded by spies. Your enemies are watching for an opportunity
to ruin you. The slightest pretext would suffice to throw you into
prison--a letter, a word, an act capable of being misconstrued. The
frontier is not far off; go, and wait in a foreign land for happier
times.\x94

\x93That is something which I will not do,\x94 said M. d\x92Escorval, proudly.

His words and accent showed the folly of further discussion. Lacheneur
understood this only too well, and seemed to despair.

\x93Ah! you are like Abbe Midon,\x94 he said, sadly; \x93you will not believe.
Who knows how much your coming here this morning will cost you? It is
said that no one can escape his destiny. But if some day the hand of the
executioner is laid upon your shoulder, remember that I warned you, and
do not curse me.\x94

He paused, and seeing that even this sinister prophecy produced no
impression upon the baron, he pressed his hand as if to bid him an
eternal farewell, and opened the door to admit the Marquis de Sairmeuse.

Martial was, perhaps, annoyed at meeting M. d\x92Escorval; but he
nevertheless bowed with studied politeness, and began a lively
conversation with M. Lacheneur, telling him that the articles he had
selected at the chateau were on their way.

M. d\x92Escorval could do no more. To speak with Marie-Anne was impossible:
Chanlouineau and Jean would not let him go out of their sight.

He reluctantly departed, and oppressed by cruel forebodings, he
descended the hill which he had climbed an hour before so full of hope.

What should he say to Maurice?

He had reached the little grove of pines when a hurried footstep behind
him made him turn.

The Marquis de Sairmeuse was following him, and motioned him to
stop. The baron paused, greatly surprised; Martial, with that air of
ingenuousness which he knew so well how to assume, and in an almost
brusque tone, said:

\x93I hope, Monsieur, that you will excuse me for having followed you, when
you hear what I have to say. I am not of your party; I loathe what you
adore; but I have none of the passion nor the malice of your enemies.
For this reason I tell you that if I were in your place I would take
a journey. The frontier is but a few miles away; a good horse, a short
gallop, and you have crossed it. A word to the wise is--salvation!\x94

And without waiting for any response, he turned and retraced his steps.

M. d\x92Escorval was amazed and confounded.

\x93One might suppose there was a conspiracy to drive me away!\x94 he
murmured. \x93But I have good reason to distrust the disinterestedness of
this young man.\x94

Martial was already far off. Had he been less preoccupied, he would
have perceived two figures in the wood. Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu,
followed by the inevitable Aunt Medea, had come to play the spy.



CHAPTER XVII

The Marquis de Courtornieu idolized his daughter. Everyone spoke of that
as an incontestable and uncontested fact.

When persons spoke to him of his daughter, they always said:

\x93You, who adore your daughter----\x94

And when he spoke of himself, _he_ said:

\x93I who adore Blanche.\x94

The truth was, that he would have given a good deal, even a third of his
fortune, to be rid of her.

This smiling young girl, who seemed such an artless child, had gained
an absolute control over him. She forced him to bow like a reed to her
every caprice--and Heaven knows she had enough of them!

In the hope of making his escape, he had thrown her Aunt Medea; but in
less than three months that poor woman had been completely subjugated,
and did not serve to divert his daughter\x92s attention from him, even for
a moment.

Sometimes the marquis revolted, but nine times out of ten he paid dearly
for his attempts at rebellion. When Mlle. Blanche turned her cold and
steel-like eyes upon him with a certain peculiar expression, his courage
evaporated. Her weapon was irony; and knowing his weak points, she
struck with wonderful precision.

It is easy to understand how devoutly he prayed and hoped that some
honest young man, by speedily marrying his daughter, would free him from
this cruel bondage.

But where was he to find this liberator?

The marquis had announced everywhere his intention of bestowing a dowry
of a million upon his daughter. Of course this had brought a host of
eager suitors, not only from the immediate neighborhood, but from parts
remote.

But, unfortunately, though many of them would have suited M. de
Courtornieu well enough, not a single one had been so fortunate as to
please Mlle. Blanche.

Her father presented some suitor; she received him graciously, lavished
all her charms upon him; but as soon as his back was turned, she
disappointed all her father\x92s hopes by rejecting him.

\x93He is too small,\x94 she said, \x93or too large. His rank is not equal to
ours. I think him stupid. He is a fool--his nose is so ugly.\x94

From these summary decisions there was no appeal. Arguments and
persuasions were useless. The condemned man no longer existed.

Still, as this view of aspirants to her hand amused her, she encouraged
her father in his efforts. He was beginning to despair, when fate
dropped the Duc de Sairmeuse and son at his very door. When he saw
Martial, he had a presentiment of his approaching release.

\x93He will be my son-in-law,\x94 he thought.

The marquis believed it best to strike the iron while it was hot. So,
the very next day, he broached the subject to the duke.

His overtures were favorably received.

Possessed with the desire of transforming Sairmeuse into a little
principality, the duke could not fail to be delighted with an alliance
with one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the neighborhood.

The conference was short.

\x93Martial, my son, possesses, in his own right, an income of at least six
hundred thousand francs,\x94 said the duke.

\x93I shall give my daughter at least--yes, at least fifteen hundred
thousand francs as her marriage portion,\x94 declared the marquis.

\x93His Majesty is favorably disposed toward me. I can obtain any important
diplomatic position for Martial.\x94

\x93In case of trouble, I have many friends among the opposition.\x94

The treaty was thus concluded; but M. de Courtornieu took good care not
to speak of it to his daughter. If he told her how much he desired
the match, she would be sure to oppose it. Non-interference seemed
advisable.

The correctness of his judgment was fully demonstrated. One morning
Mlle. Blanche made her appearance in his cabinet.

\x93Your capricious daughter has decided, papa, that she would like to
become the Marquise de Sairmeuse,\x94 said she, peremptorily.

It cost M. de Courtornieu quite an effort to conceal his delight; but he
feared if she discovered his satisfaction that the game would be lost.

He presented several objections; they were quickly disposed of; and, at
last, he ventured to say:

\x93Then the marriage is half decided; one of the parties consents. It only
remains to ascertain if----\x94

\x93The other will consent,\x94 declared the vain heiress.

And, in fact, for several days Mlle. Blanche had been applying herself
assiduously and quite successfully to the work of fascination which was
to bring Martial to her feet.

After having made an advance, with studied frankness and simplicity,
sure of the effect she had produced, she now proceeded to beat a
retreat--a manoeuvre so simple that it was almost sure to succeed.

Until now she had been gay, _spirituette_, and coquettish; gradually,
she became quiet and reserved. The giddy school-girl had given place to
the shrinking virgin.

With what perfection she played her part in the divine comedy of first
love! Martial could not fail to be fascinated by the modest artlessness
and chaste fears of the heart which seemed to be waking for him. When he
appeared, Mlle. Blanche blushed and was silent. At a word from him
she became confused. He could only occasionally catch a glimpse of her
beautiful eyes through the shelter of their long lashes.

Who had taught her this refinement of coquetry? They say that the
convent is an excellent teacher.

But what she had not learned was that the most clever often become the
dupes of their own imagination; and that great _comediennes_ generally
conclude by shedding real tears.

She learned this one evening, when a laughing remark made by the Duc de
Sairmeuse revealed the fact that Martial was in the habit of going to
Lacheneur\x92s house every day.

What she experienced now could not be compared with the jealousy, or
rather anger, which had previously agitated her.

This was an acute, bitter, and intolerable sorrow. Before, she had been
able to retain her composure; now, it was impossible.

That she might not betray herself, she left the drawing-room
precipitately and hastened to her own room, where she burst into a fit
of passionate sobbing.

\x93Can it be that he does not love me?\x94 she murmured.

This thought made her cold with terror. For the first time this haughty
heiress distrusted her own power.

She reflected that Martial\x92s position was so exalted that he could
afford to despise rank; that he was so rich that wealth had no
attractions for him; and that she herself might not be so pretty and so
charming as flatterers had led her to suppose.

Still Martial\x92s conduct during the past week--and Heaven knows with
what fidelity her memory recalled each incident--was well calculated to
reassure her.

He had not, it is true, formally declared himself, but it was evident
that he was paying his addresses to her. His manner was that of the most
respectful, but the most infatuated of lovers.

Her reflections were interrupted by the entrance of her maid, bringing a
large bouquet of roses which had just been sent by Martial.

She took the flowers, and while arranging them in a large Japanese vase,
she bedewed them with the first real sincere tears she had shed since
her entrance into the world.

She was so pale and sad, so unlike herself when she appeared the next
morning at breakfast, that Aunt Medea was alarmed.

Mlle. Blanche had prepared an excuse, and she uttered it in such sweet
tones that the poor lady was as much amazed as if she had witnessed a
miracle.

M. de Courtornieu was no less astonished.

\x93Of what new freak is this doleful face the preface?\x94 he wondered.

He was still more alarmed when, immediately after breakfast, his
daughter asked a moment\x92s conversation with him.

She followed him into his study, and as soon as they were alone, without
giving her father time to seat himself, Mlle. Blanche entreated him to
tell her all that had passed between the Duc de Sairmeuse and himself,
and asked if Martial had been informed of the intended alliance, and
what he had replied.

Her voice was meek, her eyes tearful; her manner indicated the most
intense anxiety.

The marquis was delighted.

\x93My wilful daughter has been playing with fire,\x94 he thought, stroking
his chin caressingly; \x93and upon my word, she has burned herself.\x94

\x93Yesterday, my child,\x94 he replied, \x93the Duc de Sairmeuse formally
demanded your hand on behalf of his son; your consent is all that is
lacking. So rest easy, my beautiful, lovelorn damsel--you will be a
duchess.\x94

She hid her face in her hands to conceal her blushes.

\x93You know my decision, father,\x94 she faltered, in an almost inaudible
voice; \x93we must make haste.\x94

He started back, thinking he had not heard her words aright.

\x93Make haste!\x94 he repeated.

\x93Yes, father. I have fears.\x94

\x93What fears, in Heaven\x92s name?\x94

\x93I will tell you when everything is settled,\x94 she replied, as she made
her escape from the room.

She did not doubt the reports which had reached her ears, of Martial\x92s
frequent visits to Marie-Anne, but she wished to see for herself.

So, as soon as she left her father, she obliged Aunt Medea to dress
herself, and without vouchsafing a single word of explanation, took her
with her to the Reche, and stationed herself where she could command a
view of M. Lacheneur\x92s house.

It chanced to be the very day on which M. d\x92Escorval came to ask an
explanation from his friend. She saw him come; then, after a little,
Martial made his appearance.

She had not been mistaken--now she could go home satisfied.

But no. She resolved to count the seconds which Martial passed with
Marie-Anne.

M. d\x92Escorval did not remain long; she saw Martial hasten out after him,
and speak to him.

She breathed again. His visit had not lasted a half hour, and doubtless
he was going away. Not at all. After a moment\x92s conversation with the
baron, he returned to the house.

\x93What are we doing here?\x94 demanded Aunt Medea.

\x93Let me alone!\x94 replied Mlle. Blanche, angrily; \x93hold your tongue!\x94

She heard the sound of wheels, the tramp of horses\x92 hoofs, blows of the
whip, and oaths.

The wagons bearing the furniture and clothing belonging to M. Lacheneur
were coming. This noise Martial must have heard within the house, for
he came out, and after him came M. Lacheneur, Jean, Chanlouineau, and
Marie-Anne.

Everyone was soon busy in unloading the wagons, and positively, from the
movements of the young Marquis de Sairmeuse, one would have sworn that
he was giving orders; he came and went, hurrying to and fro, talking to
everybody, not even disdaining to lend a hand occasionally.

\x93He, a nobleman, makes himself at home in that wretched hovel!\x94 Mlle.
Blanche said to herself. \x93How horrible! Ah! this dangerous creature will
do with him whatever she desires.\x94

All this was nothing compared with what was to come. A third wagon
appeared, drawn by a single horse, and laden with pots of flowers and
shrubs.

This sight drew a cry of rage from Mlle. de Courtornieu which must have
carried terror to Aunt Medea\x92s heart.

\x93Flowers!\x94 she exclaimed, in a voice hoarse with passion. \x93He sends
flowers to her as he does to me--only he sends me a bouquet, while for
her he despoils the gardens of Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93What are you saying about flowers?\x94 inquired the impoverished relative.

Mlle. Blanche replied that she had not made the slightest allusion to
flowers. She was suffocating--and yet she compelled herself to remain
there three mortal hours--all the time that was required to unload the
furniture.

The wagons had been gone some time, when Martial again appeared upon the
threshold.

Marie-Anne had accompanied him to the door, and they were talking
together. It seemed impossible for him to make up his mind to depart.

He did so, at last, however; but he left slowly and with evident
reluctance. Marie-Anne, remaining in the door, gave him a friendly
gesture of farewell.

\x93I wish to speak to this creature!\x94 exclaimed Mlle. Blanche. \x93Come,
aunt, at once!\x94

Had Marie-Anne, at that moment, been within the reach of Mlle. de
Courtornieu\x92s voice, she would certainly have learned the secret of her
former friend\x92s anger and hatred.

But fate willed it otherwise. At least three hundred yards of rough
ground separated the place where Mlle. Blanche had stationed herself,
from the Lacheneur cottage.

It required a moment to cross this space; and that was time enough to
change all the girl\x92s intentions.

She had not traversed a quarter of the distance before she bitterly
regretted having shown herself at all. But to retrace her steps now was
impossible, for Marie-Anne, who was still standing upon the threshold,
had seen her approaching.

There remained barely time to regain her self-control, and to compose
her features. She profited by it.

She had her sweetest smile upon her lips as she greeted Marie-Anne.
Still she was embarrassed; she did not know what excuse to give for her
visit, and to gain time she pretended to be quite out of breath.

\x93Ah! it is not very easy to reach you, dear Marie-Anne,\x94 she said, at
last; \x93you live _upon_ the summit of a veritable mountain.\x94

Mlle. Lacheneur said not a word. She was greatly surprised, and she did
not attempt to conceal the fact.

\x93Aunt Medea pretended to know the road,\x94 continued Mlle. Blanche, \x93but
she led me astray; did you not, aunt?\x94

As usual, the impecunious relative assented, and her niece resumed:

\x93But at last we are here. I could not, my dearest, resign myself to
hearing nothing from you, especially after all your misfortunes. What
have you been doing? Did my recommendation procure for you the work you
desired?\x94

Marie-Anne could not fail to be deeply touched by this kindly interest
on the part of her former friend. So, with perfect frankness, and
without any false shame, she confessed that all her efforts had been
fruitless. It had even seemed to her that several ladies had taken
pleasure in treating her unkindly.

But Mlle. Blanche was not listening. A few steps from her stood the
flowers brought from Sairmeuse; and their perfume rekindled her anger.

\x93At least,\x94 she interrupted, \x93you have here what will almost make you
forget the gardens of Sairmeuse. Who sent you these beautiful flowers?\x94

Marie-Anne turned crimson. She did not speak for a moment, but at last
she replied, or rather stammered:

\x93It is--an attention from the Marquis de Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93So she confesses it!\x94 thought Mlle. de Courtornieu, amazed at what she
was pleased to consider an outrageous piece of impudence.

But she succeeded in concealing her rage beneath a loud burst of
laughter; and it was in a tone of raillery that she said:

\x93Take care, my dear friend; I am going to call you to account. It is
from my fiance that you are accepting flowers.\x94

\x93What! the Marquis de Sairmeuse?\x94

\x93Has demanded the hand of your friend. Yes, my darling; and my father
has given it to him. It is a secret as yet; but I see no danger in
confiding in your friendship.\x94

She believed that she had inflicted a mortal wound upon Marie-Anne\x92s
heart; but though she watched her closely, she failed to detect the
slightest trace of emotion upon her face.

\x93What dissimulation!\x94 she thought. Then aloud, and with affected gayety,
she resumed:

\x93And the country folks will see two weddings at about the same time,
since you, also, are going to be married, my dear.\x94

\x93I!\x94

\x93Yes, you, you little deceiver! Everybody knows that you are engaged to
a young man in the neighborhood, named--wait--I know--Chanlouineau.\x94

Thus the report that annoyed Marie-Anne so much reached her from every
side.

\x93Everybody is for once mistaken,\x94 said she, energetically. \x93I shall
never be that young man\x92s wife.\x94

\x93But why? They speak well of him, personally, and he is quite rich.\x94

\x93Because,\x94 faltered Marie-Anne, \x93because----\x94

Maurice d\x92Escorval\x92s name trembled upon her lips; but unfortunately she
did not utter it, prevented by a strange expression on the face of her
friend. How often one\x92s destiny depends upon a circumstance apparently
as trivial as this!

\x93Impudent, worthless creature!\x94 thought Mlle. Blanche.

Then, in cold and sneering tones, that betrayed her hatred unmistakably,
she said:

\x93You are wrong, believe me, to refuse this offer. This Chanlouineau
will, at all events, save you from the painful necessity of laboring
with your own hands, and of going from door to door in quest of work
which is refused you. But, no matter; I\x94--she laid great stress upon
this word--\x93I will be more generous than your old acquaintances. I have
a great deal of embroidery to be done. I shall send it to you by my
maid, and you two may agree upon the price. We must go. Good-by, my
dear. Come, Aunt Medea.\x94

She departed, leaving Marie-Anne petrified with surprise, sorrow, and
indignation.

Although less experienced than Mlle. Blanche, she comprehended that this
strange visit concealed some mystery--but what?

For more than a minute she stood motionless, gazing after her departing
guests; then she started suddenly as a hand was laid gently upon her
shoulder.

She trembled, and, turning quickly, found herself face to face with her
father.

Lacheneur\x92s face was whiter than his linen, and a sinister light
glittered in his eye.

\x93I was there,\x94 said he, pointing to the door, \x93and--I heard all.\x94

\x93Father!\x94

\x93What! would you try to defend her after she came here to crush you with
her insolent good fortune--after she overwhelmed you with her ironical
pity and with her scorn? I tell you they are all like this--these girls,
whose heads have been turned by flattery, and who believe that in
their veins flows a different blood from ours. But patience! The day of
reckoning is near at hand!\x94

Those whom he threatened would have shuddered had they seen him at that
moment, so terrible was the rage revealed by his accent, so formidable
did he appear.

\x93And you, my beloved daughter, my poor Marie-Anne, you did not
understand the insults she heaped upon you. You are wondering why she
should have treated you with such disdain. Ah, well! I will tell you:
she imagines that the Marquis de Sairmeuse is your lover.\x94

Marie-Anne tottered beneath the terrible blow, and a nervous spasm shook
her from head to foot.

\x93Can this be possible?\x94 she exclaimed. \x93Great God! what shame! what
humiliation!\x94

\x93And why should this astonish you?\x94 said Lacheneur, coldly. \x93Have you
not expected this ever since the day when you, my devoted daughter,
consented, for the sake of my plans, to submit to the attentions of this
marquis, whom you loathe as much as I despise?\x94

\x93But Maurice! Maurice will despise me! I can bear anything, yes,
everything but that.\x94

M. Lacheneur made no reply. Marie-Anne\x92s despair was heart-breaking;
he felt that he could not bear to witness it, that it would shake his
resolution, and he re-entered the house.

But his penetration was not at fault. While waiting to find a revenge
which would be worthy of her, Mlle. Blanche armed herself with a weapon
of which jealousy and hatred so often avail themselves--calumny.

Two or three abominable stories which she concocted, and which she
forced Aunt Medea to circulate everywhere, did not produce the desired
effect.

Marie-Anne\x92s reputation was, of course, ruined by them; but Martial\x92s
visits, instead of ceasing, became longer and more frequent.
Dissatisfied with his progress, and fearful that he was being duped, he
even watched the house.

So it happened that, one evening, when he was quite sure that Lacheneur,
his son, and Chanlouineau were absent, Martial saw a man leave the house
and hasten across the fields.

He rushed after him, but the man escaped him.

He believed, however, that he recognized Maurice d\x92Escorval.



CHAPTER XVIII

After his son\x92s confession, M. d\x92Escorval was prudent enough to make no
allusion to the hopes he, himself, entertained.

\x93My poor Maurice,\x94 he thought, \x93is heart-broken, but resigned. It is
better for him to remain without hope than to be exposed to the danger
of another disappointment.\x94

But passion is not always blind. What the baron concealed, Maurice
divined; and he clung to this faint hope as tenaciously as a drowning
man clings to the plank which is his only hope of salvation.

If he asked his parents no questions it was only because he was
convinced that they would not tell him the truth.

But he watched all that went on in the house with that subtleness of
penetration which fever so often imparts.

Not one of his father\x92s movements escaped his vigilant eye and ear.

Consequently, he heard him put on his boots, ask for his hat, and select
a cane from among those standing in the vestibule. He also heard the
outer gate grate upon its hinges.

\x93My father is going out,\x94 he said to himself.

And weak as he was, he succeeded in dragging himself to the window in
time to satisfy himself of the truth of his conjectures.

\x93If my father is going out,\x94 he thought, \x93it can only be to visit
Monsieur Lacheneur---then he has not relinquished all hope.\x94

An arm-chair was standing nearby; he sank into it, intending to watch
for his father\x92s return; by doing so, he might know his destiny a few
moments sooner.

Three long hours passed before the baron returned.

By his father\x92s dejected manner he plainly saw that all hope was lost.
He was sure of it; as sure as the criminal who reads the fatal verdict
in the solemn face of the judge.

He had need of all his energy to regain his couch. For a moment he felt
that he was dying.

But he was ashamed of this weakness, which he judged unworthy of him. He
determined to know what had passed--to know the details.

He rang, and told the servant that he wished to speak to his father. M.
d\x92Escorval promptly made his appearance.

\x93Well?\x94 cried Maurice.

M. d\x92Escorval felt that denial was useless.

\x93Lacheneur is deaf to my remonstrances and to my entreaties,\x94 he
replied, sadly. \x93Nothing remains for you but to submit, my son. I
shall not tell you that time will assuage the sorrow that now seems
insupportable--you would not believe me. But I do say to you, that you
are a man, and that you must prove your courage. I say even more:
fight against thoughts of Marie-Anne as a traveller on the verge of a
precipice fights against the thought of vertigo.\x94

\x93Have you seen Marie-Anne, father? Have you spoken to her?\x94

\x93I found her even more inflexible than Lacheneur.\x94

\x93They reject me, and they receive Chanlouineau, perhaps.\x94

\x93Chanlouineau is living there.\x94

\x93My God! And Martial de Sairmeuse?\x94

\x93He is their familiar guest. I saw him there.\x94 That each of these
responses fell upon Maurice like a thunder-bolt was only too evident.

But M. d\x92Escorval had armed himself with the impassable courage of
a surgeon who does not relax his hold on his instruments because the
patient groans and writhes in agony.

M. d\x92Escorval wished to extinguish the last ray of hope in the heart of
his son.

\x93It is evident that Monsieur Lacheneur has lost his reason!\x94 exclaimed
Maurice.

The baron shook his head despondently. \x93I thought so myself, at first,\x94
 he murmured.

\x93But what does he say in justification of his conduct? He must say
something.\x94

\x93Nothing; _he_ refuses any explanation.\x94

\x93And you, father, with all your knowledge of human nature, with all your
wide experience, have not been able to fathom his intentions?\x94

\x93I have my suspicions,\x94 M. d\x92Escorval replied; \x93but only suspicions.
It is possible that Lacheneur, listening to the voice of hatred, is
dreaming of a terrible revenge. Who knows if he does not think of
organizing some conspiracy, of which he is to be the leader? These
suppositions would explain everything. Chanlouineau is his aider and
abettor; and he pretends to be reconciled to the Marquis de Sairmeuse in
order to get information through him----\x94

The blood had returned to the pale cheeks of Maurice.

\x93Such a conspiracy would not explain Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s obstinate
rejection of my suit.\x94

\x93Alas! yes, my poor boy. It is through Marie-Anne that Lacheneur exerts
such an influence over Chanlouineau and the Marquis de Sairmeuse. If she
became your wife to-day, they would desert him tomorrow. Then, too, it
is precisely because he loves us that he is determined we shall not be
mixed up in an enterprise the success of which is extremely doubtful.
But these are mere conjectures.\x94

\x93Then I see that it is necessary to submit, to be resigned; forget, I
cannot,\x94 faltered Maurice.

He said this because he wished to reassure his father; but he thought
exactly the opposite.

\x93If Lacheneur is organizing a conspiracy,\x94 he said, to himself, \x93he
must need assistance. Why should I not offer mine? If I aid him in
his preparations, if I share his hopes and his dangers, it will be
impossible for him to refuse me the hand of his daughter. Whatever he
may desire to undertake, I can surely be of greater assistance than
Chanlouineau.\x94

From that moment Maurice thought only of doing everything possible to
hasten his convalescence. This was so rapid, so extraordinarily rapid,
as to astonish Abbe Midon, who had taken the place of the physician from
Montaignac.

\x93I never would have believed that Maurice could have been thus
consoled,\x94 said Mme. d\x92Escorval, delighted to see her son\x92s wonderful
improvement in health and spirits.

But the baron made no response. He regarded this almost miraculous
recovery with distrust; he was assailed by a vague suspicion of the
truth.

He questioned his son, but skilfully as he did it, he could draw nothing
from him.

Maurice had decided to say nothing to his parents. What good would it do
to trouble them? Besides, he feared remonstrance and opposition, and he
was resolved to carry out his plans, even if he was compelled to leave
the paternal roof.

In the second week of September the abbe declared that Maurice might
resume his ordinary life, and that, as the weather was pleasant, it
would be well for him to spend much of his time in the open air.

In his delight, Maurice embraced the worthy priest.

\x93What happiness!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93then I can hunt once more!\x94

He really cared but little for the chase; but he deemed it expedient
to pretend a great passion for it, since it would furnish him with an
excuse for frequent and protracted absences.

Never had he felt more happy than on the morning when, with his gun upon
his shoulder, he crossed the Oiselle and started for the abode of M.
Lacheneur. On reaching the little grove on the Reche, he paused for a
moment at a place which commanded a view of the cottage. While he stood
there, he saw Jean Lacheneur and Chanlouineau leave the house, each
laden with a pedler\x92s pack.

Maurice was therefore sure that M. Lacheneur and Marie-Anne were alone
in the house.

He hastened to the cottage and entered without stopping to rap.

Marie-Anne and her father were kneeling on the hearth, upon which a huge
fire was blazing.

On hearing the door open, they turned; and at the sight of Maurice, they
both sprang up, blushing and confused.

\x93What brings you here?\x94 they exclaimed in the same breath.

Under other circumstances, Maurice d\x92Escorval would have been dismayed
by such a hostile greeting, but now he scarcely noticed it.

\x93You have no business to return here against my wishes, and after what I
have said to you, Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 said Lacheneur, rudely.

Maurice smiled, he was perfectly cool, and not a detail of the scene
before him had escaped his notice. If he had felt any doubts before,
they were now dissipated. He saw upon the fire a large kettle of
melted lead, and several bullet-moulds stood on the hearth, beside the
andirons.

\x93If I venture to present myself at your house, Monsieur,\x94 said Maurice,
gravely and impressively, \x93it is because I know all. I have discovered
your revengeful project. You are looking for men to aid you, are you
not? Very well! look me in the face, in the eyes, and tell me if I am
not one of those whom a leader is glad to enroll among his followers.\x94

M. Lacheneur was terribly agitated.

\x93I do not know what you mean,\x94 he faltered, forgetting his feigned
anger; \x93I have no projects.\x94

\x93Would you assert this upon oath? Why are you casting these bullets? You
are clumsy conspirators. You should lock your door; someone else might
have entered.\x94

And adding example to precept, he turned and pushed the bolt.

\x93This is only an imprudence,\x94 he continued; \x93but to reject a soldier who
comes to you voluntarily would be a fault for which your associate would
have a right to call you to account. I have no desire, understand me,
to force myself into your confidence. No, I give myself to you blindly,
body and soul. Whatever your cause may be, I declare it mine; what you
wish, I wish; I adopt your plans; your enemies are my enemies; command,
I will obey. I ask only one favor, that of fighting, of triumphing, or
of dying by your side.\x94

\x93Oh! refuse, father!\x94 exclaimed Marie-Anne; \x93refuse. To accept this
offer would be a crime!\x94

\x93A crime! And why, if you please?\x94

\x93Because our cause is not your cause; because its success is doubtful;
because dangers surround us on every side.\x94

A scornful exclamation from Maurice interrupted her.

\x93And it is you who think to dissuade me by pointing out the dangers that
threaten you, the dangers that you are braving----\x94

\x93Maurice!\x94

\x93So if imminent peril menaced me, instead of coming to my aid you would
desert me? You would hide yourself, saying, \x91Let him perish, so that I
be saved!\x92 Speak! Would you do this?\x94

She averted her face and made no reply. She could not force herself to
utter an untruth; and she was unwilling to answer: \x93I would act as you
are acting.\x94 She waited for her father\x92s decision.

\x93If I should comply with your request, Maurice,\x94 said M. Lacheneur, \x93in
less than three days you would curse me, and ruin us by some outburst
of anger. You love Marie-Anne. Could you see, unmoved, the frightful
position in which she is placed? Remember, she must not discourage the
addresses either of Chanlouineau or of the Marquis de Sairmeuse. You
regard me--oh, I know as well as you do that it is a shameful and odious
role that I impose upon her--that she is compelled to play a part
in which she will lose a young girl\x92s most precious possession--her
reputation.\x94

Maurice did not wince. \x93So be it,\x94 he said, calmly. \x93Marie-Anne\x92s fate
will be that of all women who have devoted themselves to the political
advancement of the man whom they love, be he father, brother, or lover.
She will be slandered, insulted, calumniated. What does it matter? She
may continue her task. I consent to it, for I shall never doubt her, and
I shall know how to hold my peace. If we succeed, she shall be my wife;
if we fail----\x94

The gesture which concluded the sentence said more strongly than any
protestations, that he was ready, resigned to anything.

M. Lacheneur was greatly moved.

\x93At least give me time for reflection,\x94 said he.

\x93There is no necessity for further reflection, Monsieur.\x94

\x93But you are only a child, Maurice; and your father is my friend.\x94

\x93What of that?\x94

\x93Rash boy! do you not understand that by compromising yourself you also
compromise Baron d\x92Escorval? You think you are risking only your own
head; you are endangering your father\x92s life----\x94

But Maurice violently interrupted him.

\x93There has been too much parleying already!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93there have
been too many remonstrances. Answer me in a word! Only understand this:
if you reject me, I will return to my father\x92s house, and with this gun
which I hold in my hand I will blow out my brains.\x94

This was no idle threat. It was evident that what he said, that would he
do. His listeners were so convinced of this, that Marie-Anne turned to
her father with clasped hands and a look of entreaty.

\x93You are one of us, then,\x94 said M. Lacheneur, sternly; \x93but do not
forget that you forced me to consent by threats; and whatever may happen
to you or yours, remember that you would have it so.\x94

But these gloomy words produced no impression upon Maurice; he was wild
with joy.

\x93Now,\x94 continued M. Lacheneur, \x93I must tell you my hopes, and acquaint
you with the cause for which I am laboring----\x94

\x93What does that matter to me?\x94 Maurice exclaimed, gayly; and, springing
toward Marie-Anne, he seized her hand and raised it to his lips, crying,
with the joyous laugh of youth:

\x93My cause--here it is!\x94

Lacheneur turned away. Perhaps he recollected that a sacrifice of his
pride was all that was necessary to assure the happiness of these poor
children.

But if a feeling of remorse entered his mind, he drove it away, and with
increased sternness, he said:

\x93Still, Monsieur d\x92Escorval, it is necessary for you to understand our
agreement.\x94

\x93Make known your conditions, sir.\x94

\x93First, your visits here--after certain rumors that I have put in
circulation--would arouse suspicion. You must come here only at night,
and then only at hours that have been agreed upon in advance--never when
you are not expected.\x94

The attitude of Maurice expressed his entire consent.

\x93Moreover, you must find some way to cross the river without having
recourse to the ferryman, who is a dangerous fellow.\x94

\x93We have an old skiff. I will persuade my father to have it repaired.\x94

\x93Very well. Will you also promise me to avoid the Marquis de Sairmeuse?\x94

\x93I will.\x94

\x93Wait a moment; we must be prepared for any emergency. It may be
that, in spite of our precautions, you will meet him here. Monsieur de
Sairmeuse is arrogance itself; and he hates you. You detest him, and you
are very hasty. Swear to me that if he provokes you, you will ignore his
insults.\x94

\x93But I should be considered a coward, Monsieur!\x94

\x93Probably. Will you swear?\x94

Maurice hesitated, but an imploring look from Marie-Anne decided him.

\x93I swear!\x94 he said, gravely.

\x93As far as Chanlouineau is concerned, it would be better not to let him
know of our agreement--but I will take care of this matter.\x94

M. Lacheneur paused and reflected for a moment, as if striving to
discover if he had forgotten anything.

\x93Nothing remains, Maurice,\x94 he resumed, \x93but to give you a last and very
important piece of advice. Do you know my son?\x94

\x93Certainly; we were formerly the best of comrades during our vacations.\x94

\x93Very well. When you know my secret--for I shall confide it to you
without reserve--beware of Jean.\x94

\x93What, sir?\x94

\x93Beware of Jean. I repeat it.\x94

And he blushed deeply, as he added:

\x93Ah! it is a painful avowal for a father; but I have no confidence in my
own son. He knows no more in regard to my plans than I told him on the
day of his arrival. I deceive him, because I fear he might betray us.
Perhaps it would be wise to send him away; but in that case, what would
people say? Most assuredly they would say that I was very avaricious of
my own blood, while I was very ready to risk the lives of others. Still
I may be mistaken; I may misjudge him.\x94

He sighed, and added:

\x93Beware!\x94



CHAPTER XIX

So it was really Maurice d\x92Escorval whom the Marquis de Sairmeuse had
seen leaving Lacheneur\x92s house.

Martial was not certain of it, but the very possibility made his heart
swell with anger.

\x93What part am I playing here, then?\x94 he exclaimed, indignantly.

He had been so completely blinded by passion that he would not have been
likely to discover the real condition of affairs even if no pains had
been taken to deceive him.

Lacheneur\x92s formal courtesy and politeness he regarded as sincere.
He believed in the studied respect shown him by Jean; and the almost
servile obsequiousness of Chanlouineau did not surprise him in the
least.

And since Marie-Anne welcomed him politely, he concluded that his suit
was progressing favorably.

Having himself forgotten, he supposed that everyone else had ceased to
remember.

Moreover, he was of the opinion that he had acted with great generosity,
and that he was entitled to the deep gratitude of the Lacheneur family;
for M. Lacheneur had received the legacy bequeathed him by Mlle.
Armande, and an indemnity, besides all the furniture he had chosen to
take from the chateau, a total of at least sixty thousand francs.

\x93He must be hard to please, if he is not satisfied!\x94 growled the duke,
enraged at such prodigality, though it did not cost him a penny.

Martial had supposed himself the only visitor at the cottage on the
Reche; and when he discovered that such was not the case, he became
furious.

\x93Am I, then, the dupe of a shameless girl?\x94 he thought.

He was so incensed, that for more than a week he did not go to
Lacheneur\x92s house.

His father concluded that his ill-humor and gloom was caused by
some misunderstanding with Marie-Anne; and he took advantage of this
opportunity to gain his son\x92s consent to an alliance with Blanche de
Courtornieu.

A victim to the most cruel doubts and fears, Martial, goaded to the last
extremity, exclaimed:

\x93Very well! I will marry Mademoiselle Blanche.\x94

The duke did not allow such a good resolution to grow cold.

In less than forty-eight hours the engagement was made public; the
marriage contract was drawn up, and it was announced that the wedding
would take place early in the spring.

A grand banquet was given at Sairmeuse in honor of the betrothal--a
banquet all the more brilliant since there were other victories to be
celebrated.

The Duc de Sairmeuse had just received, with his brevet of
lieutenant-general, a commission placing him in command of the military
department of Montaignac.

The Marquis de Courtornieu had also received an appointment, making him
provost-marshal of the same district.

Blanche had triumphed. After this public betrothal Martial was bound to
her.

For a fortnight, indeed, he scarcely left her side. In her society
there was a charm whose sweetness almost made him forget his love for
Marie-Anne.

But unfortunately the haughty heiress could not resist the temptation
to make a slighting allusion to Marie-Anne, and to the lowliness of
the marquis\x92s former tastes. She found an opportunity to say that she
furnished Marie-Anne with work to aid her in earning a living.

Martial forced himself to smile; but the indignity which Marie-Anne had
received aroused his sympathy and indignation.

And the next day he went to Lacheneur\x92s house.

In the warmth of the greeting that awaited him there, all his anger
vanished, all his suspicions evaporated. Marie-Anne\x92s eyes beamed with
joy on seeing him again; he noticed it.

\x93Oh! I shall win her yet!\x94 he thought.

All the household were really delighted at his return; the son of the
commander of the military forces at Montaignac, and the prospective
son-in-law of the provost-marshal, Martial was a most valuable
instrument.

\x93Through him, we shall have an eye and an ear in the enemy\x92s camp,\x94 said
Lacheneur. \x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse will be our spy.\x94

He was, for he soon resumed his daily visits to the cottage. It was now
December, and the roads were terrible; but neither rain, snow, nor mud
could keep Martial from the cottage.

He made his appearance generally as early as ten o\x92clock, seated himself
upon a stool in the shadow of a tall fireplace, and he and Marie-Anne
talked by the hour.

She seemed greatly interested in matters at Montaignac, and he told her
all that he knew in regard to affairs there.

Sometimes they were alone.

Lacheneur, Chanlouineau, and Jean were tramping about the country with
their merchandise. Business was prospering so well that M. Lacheneur had
purchased a horse in order to extend his journeys.

But Martial\x92s conversation was generally interrupted by visitors. It was
really surprising to see how many peasants came to the house to speak to
M. Lacheneur. There was an interminable procession of them. And to each
of these peasants Marie-Anne had something to say in private. Then she
offered each man refreshments--the house seemed almost like a common
drinking-saloon.

But what can daunt the courage of a lover? Martial endured all this
without a murmur. He laughed and jested with the comers and goers; he
shook hands with them; sometimes he even drank with them.

He gave many other proofs of moral courage. He offered to assist M.
Lacheneur in making up his accounts; and once--it happened about the
middle of February--seeing Chanlouineau worrying over the composition of
a letter, he actually offered to act as his amanuensis.

\x93The d----d letter is not for me, but for an uncle of mine who is about
to marry off his daughter,\x94 said Chanlouineau.

Martial took a seat at the table, and, at Chanlouineau\x92s dictation, but
not without many erasures, indited the following epistle:


\x93My dear friend--We are at last agreed, and the marriage has been
decided upon. We are now busy with preparations for the wedding, which
will take place on ----. We invite you to give us the pleasure of your
company. We count upon you, and be assured that the more friends you
bring with you the better we shall be pleased.\x94


Had Martial seen the smile upon Chanlouineau\x92s lips when he requested
him to leave the date for the wedding a blank, he would certainly have
suspected that he had been caught in a snare. But he was in love.

\x93Ah! Marquis,\x94 remarked his father one day, \x93Chupin tells me you are
always at Lacheneur\x92s. When will you recover from your _penchant_ for
that little girl?\x94

Martial did not reply. He felt that he was at that \x93little girl\x92s\x94
 mercy. Each glance of hers made his heart throb wildly. By her side
he was a willing captive. If she had asked him to make her his wife he
would not have said no.

But Marie-Anne had not this ambition. All her thoughts, all her wishes
were for her father\x92s success.

Maurice and Marie-Anne had become M. Lacheneur\x92s most intrepid
auxiliaries. They were looking forward to such a magnificent reward.

Such feverish activity as Maurice displayed! All day long he hurried
from hamlet to hamlet, and in the evening, as soon as dinner was over,
he made his escape from the drawing-room, sprang into his boat, and
hastened to the Reche.

M. d\x92Escorval could not fail to remark the long and frequent absences
of his son. He watched him, and soon became absolutely certain that
Lacheneur had, to use the baron\x92s own expression, seduced him.

Greatly alarmed, he decided to go and see his former friend, and fearing
another repulse, he begged Abbe Midon to accompany him.

It was on the 4th of March, at about half-past four o\x92clock, that M.
d\x92Escorval and the cure started for the Reche. They were so anxious
and troubled in mind that they scarcely exchanged a dozen words as they
wended their way onward.

A strange sight met their eyes as they emerged from the grove on the
Reche.

Night was falling, but it was still light enough for them to distinguish
objects only a short distance from them.

Before Lacheneur\x92s house stood a group of about a dozen persons, and M.
Lacheneur was speaking and gesticulating excitedly.

What was he saying? Neither the baron nor the priest could distinguish
his words, but when he ceased, the most vociferous acclamations rent the
air.

Suddenly a match glowed between his fingers; he set fire to a bundle of
straw and tossed it upon the thatched roof of his cottage, crying out in
a terrible voice:

\x93The die is cast! This will prove to you that I shall not draw back!\x94

Five minutes later the house was in flames.

In the distance the baron and his companion saw the windows of the
citadel at Montaignac illuminated by a red glare, and upon every
hill-side glowed the light of other incendiary fires.

The country was responding to Lacheneur\x92s signal.



CHAPTER XX

Ah! ambition is a fine thing!

The Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu were past middle
age; their lives had been marked by many storms and vicissitudes; they
were the possessors of millions, and the owners of the most sumptuous
residences in the province. Under these circumstances one might
have supposed that they would desire to end their days in peace and
quietness.

It would have been easy for them to create a life of happiness by doing
good to those around them, and by preparing for their last hours a
chorus of benedictions and of regrets.

But no. They longed to have a hand in managing the ship of state; they
were not content to be simply passengers.

And the duke, appointed to the command of the military forces, and the
marquis, made presiding judge of the court at Montaignac, were both
obliged to leave their beautiful homes and take up their abode in rather
dingy quarters in town.

They did not murmur at the change; their vanity was satisfied.

Louis XVIII. was on the throne; their prejudices were triumphant; they
were happy.

It is true that dissatisfaction was rife on every side, but had they not
hundreds and thousands of allies at hand to suppress it?

And when wise and thoughtful persons spoke of \x93discontent,\x94 the duke and
his associates regarded them as visionaries.

On the 4th of March, 1816, the duke was just sitting down to dinner when
a loud noise was heard in the vestibule.

He rose--but at that very instant the door was flung open and a man
entered, panting and breathless.

This man was Chupin, the former poacher, whom M. de Sairmeuse had
elevated to the position of head gamekeeper.

It was evident that something extraordinary had happened.

\x93What is it?\x94 inquired the duke.

\x93They are coming!\x94 cried Chupin; \x93they are already on the way!\x94

\x93Who? who?\x94

By way of response, Chupin handed the duke a copy of the letter written
by Martial under Chanlouineau\x92s dictation.

M. de Sairmeuse read:


\x93My dear friend--We are at last agreed, and the marriage is decided. We
are now busy in preparing for the wedding, which will take place on the
4th of March.\x94


The date was no longer blank; but still the duke did not comprehend.

\x93Well, what of it?\x94 he demanded.

Chupin tore his hair.

\x93They are on the way,\x94 he repeated. \x93I speak of the peasants--they
intend to take possession of Montaignac, dethrone Louis XVIII.,
bring back the Emperor, or at least the son of the Emperor--miserable
wretches! they have deceived me. I suspected this outbreak, but I did
not think it was so near at hand.\x94

This terrible blow, so entirely unexpected, stupefied the duke for a
moment.

\x93How many are there?\x94 he demanded.

\x93Ah! how do I know, Monsieur? Two thousand, perhaps--perhaps ten
thousand.\x94

\x93All the towns-people are with us.\x94

\x93No, Monsieur, no. The rebels have accomplices here. All the retired
officers stand ready to assist them.\x94

\x93Who are the leaders of the movement?\x94

\x93Lacheneur, Abbe Midon, Chanlouineau, Baron d\x92Escorval----\x94

\x93Enough!\x94 cried the duke.

Now that danger was certain, his coolness returned; and his herculean
form, a trifle bowed by the weight of years, rose to its full height.

He gave the bell-rope a violent pull; a valet appeared.

\x93My uniform,\x94 commanded M. de Sairmeuse; \x93my pistols! Quick!\x94

The servant was about to obey, when the duke exclaimed:

\x93Wait! Let someone take a horse, and go and tell my son to come here
without a moment\x92s delay. Take one of the swiftest horses. The messenger
ought to go to Sairmeuse and return in two hours.\x94

Chupin endeavored to attract the duke\x92s attention by pulling the skirt
of his coat. M. de Sairmeuse turned:

\x93What is it?\x94

The old poacher put his finger on his lip, recommending silence, but as
soon as the valet had left the room, he said:

\x93It is useless to send for the marquis.\x94

\x93And why, you fool?\x94

\x93Because, Monsieur, because--excuse me--I----\x94

\x93Zounds! will you speak, or will you not?\x94

Chupin regretted that he had gone so far.

\x93Because the marquis----\x94

\x93Well?\x94

\x93He is engaged in it.\x94

The duke overturned the table with a terrible blow of his clinched fist.

\x93You lie, wretch!\x94 he thundered, with the most horrible oaths.

He was so formidable in his anger that the old poacher sprang to the
door and turned the knob, ready to take flight.

\x93May I lose my head if I do not speak the truth,\x94 he insisted. \x93Ah!
Lacheneur\x92s daughter is a regular sorceress. All the gallants of the
neighborhood are in the ranks; Chanlouineau, young d\x92Escorval, your
son----\x94

M. de Sairmeuse was pouring forth a torrent of curses upon Marie-Anne
when his valet re-entered the room.

He suddenly checked himself, put on his uniform, and ordering Chupin to
follow him, hastened from the house.

He was still hoping that Chupin had exaggerated the danger; but when
he reached the Place d\x92Arms, which commanded an extended view of the
surrounding country, his illusions were put to flight.

Signal-lights gleamed upon every side. Montaignac seemed surrounded by a
circle of flame.

\x93These are the signals,\x94 murmured Chupin. \x93The rebels will be here
before two o\x92clock in the morning.\x94

The duke made no response, but hastened to consult M. de Courtornieu.

He was striding toward his friend\x92s house when, on hastily turning
a corner, he saw two men talking in a doorway, and on seeing the
glittering of the duke\x92s epaulets, both of them took flight.

The duke instinctively started in pursuit, overtook one man, and seizing
him by the collar, he asked, sternly:

\x93Who are you? What is your name?\x94

The man was silent, and his captor shook him so roughly that two
pistols, which had been hidden under his long coat, fell to the ground.

\x93Ah, brigand!\x94 exclaimed M. de Sairmeuse, \x93so you are one of the
conspirators against the King!\x94

Then, without another word, he dragged the man to the citadel, gave
him in charge of the astonished soldiers, and again started for M. de
Courtornieu\x92s house.

He expected the marquis would be terrified; not in the least; he seemed
delighted.

\x93At last there comes an opportunity for us to display our devotion and
our zeal--and without danger! We have good walls, strong gates, and
three thousand soldiers at our command. These peasants are fools! But
be grateful for their folly, my dear duke, and run and order out the
Montaignac chasseurs----\x94

But suddenly a cloud overspread his face; he knit his brows, and added:

\x93The devil! I am expecting Blanche this evening. She was to leave
Courtornieu after dinner. Heaven grant that she may meet with no
misfortune on the way!\x94



CHAPTER XXI

The Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu had more time before
them than they supposed.

The rebels were advancing, but not so rapidly as Chupin had said.

Two circumstances, which it was impossible to foresee, disarranged
Lacheneur\x92s plans.

Standing beside his burning house, Lacheneur counted the signal fires
that blazed out in answer to his own.

Their number corresponded to his expectations; he uttered a cry of joy.

\x93All our friends keep their word!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93They are ready; they
are even now on their way to the rendezvous. Let us start at once, for
we must be there first!\x94

They brought him his horse, and his foot was already in the stirrup,
when two men sprang from the neighboring grove and darted toward him.
One of them seized the horse by the bridle.

\x93Abbe Midon!\x94 exclaimed Lacheneur, in profound astonishment; \x93Monsieur
d\x92Escorval!\x94

And foreseeing, perhaps, what was to come, he added, in a tone of
concentrated fury:

\x93What do you two men want with me?\x94

\x93We wish to prevent the accomplishment of an act of madness!\x94 exclaimed
M. d\x92Escorval. \x93Hatred has crazed you, Lacheneur!\x94

\x93You know nothing of my projects!\x94

\x93Do you think that I do not suspect them? You hope to capture
Montaignac-----\x94

\x93What does that matter to you?\x94 interrupted Lacheneur, violently.

But M. d\x92Escorval would not be silenced.

He seized the arm of his former friend, and in a voice loud enough to be
heard distinctly by everyone present, he continued:

\x93Foolish man! You have forgotten that Montaignac is a fortified city,
protected by deep moats and high walls! You have forgotten that behind
these fortifications is a garrison commanded by a man whose energy and
valor are beyond all question--the Duc de Sairmeuse.\x94

Lacheneur struggled to free himself from his friend\x92s grasp.

\x93Everything has been arranged,\x94 he replied, \x93and they are expecting us
at Montaignac. You would be as sure of this as I am myself, if you had
seen the light gleaming on the windows of the citadel. And look, you
can see it yet. This light tells me that two or three hundred retired
officers will come to open the gates of the city for us as soon as we
make our appearance.\x94

\x93And after that! If you take Montaignac, what will you do then? Do
you suppose that the English will give you back your Emperor? Is not
Napoleon II. the prisoner of the Austrians? Have you forgotten that
the allied sovereigns have left one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers
within a day\x92s march of Paris?\x94

Sullen murmurs were heard among Lacheneur\x92s followers.

\x93But all this is nothing,\x94 continued the baron. \x93The chief danger lies
in the fact that there are as many traitors as dupes in an undertaking
of this sort.\x94

\x93Whom do you call dupes, Monsieur?\x94

\x93All those who take their illusions for realities, as you have done; all
those who, because they desire anything very much, really believe that
it will come to pass. Do you really suppose that neither the Duc de
Sairmeuse nor the Marquis de Courtornieu has been warned of it?\x94

Lacheneur shrugged his shoulders.

\x93Who could have warned them?\x94

But his tranquillity was feigned; the look which he cast upon Jean
proved it.

And it was in the coldest possible tone that he added:

\x93It is probable that at this very hour the duke and the marquis are in
the power of our friends.\x94

The cure now attempted to join his efforts to those of the baron.

\x93You will not go, Lacheneur,\x94 he said. \x93You will not remain deaf to
the voice of reason. You are an honest man; think of the frightful
responsibility you assume! What! upon these frail hopes, you dare to
peril the lives of hundreds of brave men? I tell you that you will not
succeed; you will be betrayed; I am sure you will be betrayed!\x94

An expression of horror contracted Lacheneur\x92s features. It was evident
to all that he was deeply moved.

It is impossible to say what might have happened had it not been for the
intervention of Chanlouineau.

This sturdy peasant came forward, brandishing his gun.

\x93We are wasting too much time in foolish prattling,\x94 he exclaimed with a
fierce oath.

Lacheneur started as if he had been struck by a whip. He rudely freed
himself and leaped into the saddle.

\x93Forward!\x94 he ordered.

But the baron and the priest did not yet despair; they sprang to the
horse\x92s head.

\x93Lacheneur,\x94 cried the priest, \x93beware! The blood you are about to spill
will fall upon your head, and upon the heads of your children!\x94

Appalled by these prophetic words, the little band paused.

Then someone issued from the ranks, clad in the costume of a peasant.

\x93Marie-Anne!\x94 exclaimed the abbe and the baron in the same breath.

\x93Yes, I,\x94 responded the young girl, removing the large hat which had
partially concealed her face; \x93I wish to share the dangers of those who
are dear to me--share in their victory or their defeat. Your counsel
comes too late, gentlemen. Do you see those lights on the horizon?
They tell us that the people of these communes are repairing to the
cross-roads at the Croix d\x92Arcy, the general rendezvous. Before two
o\x92clock fifteen hundred men will be gathered there awaiting my father\x92s
commands. Would you have him leave these men, whom he has called from
their peaceful firesides, without a leader? Impossible!\x94

She evidently shared the madness of her lover and father, even if she
did not share all their hopes.

\x93No, there must be no more hesitation, no more parleying,\x94 she
continued. \x93Prudence now would be the height of folly. There is no more
danger in a retreat than in an advance. Do not try to detain my father,
gentlemen; each moment of delay may, perhaps, cost a man\x92s life. And
now, my friends, forward!\x94

A loud cheer answered her, and the little band descended the hill.

But M. d\x92Escorval could not allow his own son, whom he saw in the ranks,
to depart thus.

\x93Maurice!\x94 he cried.

The young man hesitated, but at last approached.

\x93You will not follow these madmen, Maurice?\x94 said the baron.

\x93I must follow them, father.\x94

\x93I forbid it.\x94

\x93Alas! father, I cannot obey you. I have promised--I have sworn. I am
second in command.\x94

His voice was sad, but it was determined.

\x93My son!\x94 exclaimed M. d\x92Escorval; \x93unfortunate child!--it is to certain
death that you are marching--to certain death.\x94

\x93All the more reason that I should not break my word, father.\x94

\x93And your mother, Maurice, the mother whom you forget!\x94

A tear glistened in the young man\x92s eye.

\x93My mother,\x94 he replied, \x93would rather weep for her dead son than
keep him near her dishonored, and branded with the names of coward and
traitor. Farewell! my father.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval appreciated the nobility of soul that Maurice displayed
in his conduct. He extended his arms, and pressed his beloved son
convulsively to his heart, feeling that it might be for the last time.

\x93Farewell!\x94 he faltered, \x93farewell!\x94

Maurice soon rejoined his comrades, whose acclamations were growing
fainter and fainter in the distance; but the baron stood motionless,
overwhelmed with sorrow.

Suddenly he started from his revery.

\x93A single hope remains, Abbe!\x94 he cried.

\x93Alas!\x94 murmured the priest.

\x93Oh--I am not mistaken. Marie-Anne just told us the place of rendezvous.
By running to Escorval and harnessing the cabriolet, we might be able to
reach the Croix d\x92Arcy before this party arrive there. Your voice, which
touched Lacheneur, will touch the heart of his accomplices. We will
persuade these poor, misguided men to return to their homes. Come, Abbe;
come quickly!\x94

And they departed on the run.



CHAPTER XXII

The clock in the tower of Sairmeuse was striking the hour of eight when
Lacheneur and his little band of followers left the Reche.

An hour later, at the Chateau de Courtornieu, Mlle. Blanche, after
finishing her dinner, ordered the carriage to convey her to Montaignac.
Since her father had taken up his abode in town they met only on Sunday;
on that day either Blanche went to Montaignac, or the marquis paid a
visit to the chateau.

Hence this proposed journey was a deviation from the regular order of
things. It was explained, however, by grave circumstances.

It was six days since Martial had presented himself at Courtornieu; and
Blanche was half crazed with grief and rage.

What Aunt Medea was forced to endure during this interval, only poor
dependents in rich families can understand.

For the first three days Mlle. Blanche succeeded in preserving a
semblance of self-control; on the fourth she could endure it no longer,
and in spite of the breach of \x93_les convenances_\x94 which it involved, she
sent a messenger to Sairmeuse to inquire for Martial. Was he ill--had he
gone away?

The messenger was informed that the marquis was perfectly well, but,
as he spent the entire day, from early morn to dewy eve, in hunting, he
went to bed every evening as soon as supper was over.

What a horrible insult! Still, she was certain that Martial, on hearing
what she had done, would hasten to her to make his excuses. Vain hope!
He did not come; he did not even condescend to give one sign of life.

\x93Ah! doubtless he is with her,\x94 she said to Aunt Medea. \x93He is on his
knees before that miserable Marie-Anne--his mistress.\x94

For she had finished by believing--as is not unfrequently the case--the
very calumnies which she herself had invented.

In this extremity she decided to make her father her confidant; and she
wrote him a note announcing her coming.

She wished her father to compel Lacheneur to leave the country. This
would be an easy matter for him, since he was armed with discretionary
authority at an epoch when lukewarm devotion afforded an abundant excuse
for sending a man into exile.

Fully decided upon this plan, Blanche became calmer on leaving the
chateau; and her hopes overflowed in incoherent phrases, to which poor
Aunt Medea listened with her accustomed resignation.

\x93At last I shall be rid of this shameless creature!\x94 she exclaimed. \x93We
will see if he has the audacity to follow her! Will he follow her? Oh,
no; he dare not!\x94

When the carriage passed through the village of Sairmeuse, Mlle. Blanche
noticed an unwonted animation.

There were lights in every house, the saloons seemed full of drinkers,
and groups of people were standing upon the public square and upon the
doorsteps.

But what did this matter to Mlle. de Courtornieu! It was not until they
were a mile or so from Sairmeuse that she was startled from her revery.

\x93Listen, Aunt Medea,\x94 she said, suddenly. \x93Do you hear anything?\x94

The poor dependent listened. Both occupants of the carriage heard shouts
that became more and more distinct with each revolution of the wheels.

\x93Let us find out the meaning of this,\x94 said Mlle. Blanche.

And lowering one of the carriage-windows, she asked the coachman the
cause of the disturbance.

\x93I see a great crowd of peasants on the hill; they have torches and----\x94

\x93Blessed Jesus!\x94 interrupted Aunt Medea, in alarm.

\x93It must be a wedding,\x94 added the coachman, whipping up his horses.

It was not a wedding, but Lacheneur\x92s little band, which had been
augmented to the number of about five hundred. Lacheneur should have
been at the Croix d\x92Arcy two hours before. But he had shared the fate of
most popular chiefs. When an impetus had been given to the movement he
was no longer master of it.

Baron d\x92Escorval had made him lose twenty minutes; he was delayed four
times as long in Sairmeuse. When he reached that village, a little
behind time, he found the peasants scattered through the wine-shops,
drinking to the success of the enterprise.

To tear them from their merry-making was a long and difficult task.

And to crown all, when they were finally induced to resume their line of
march, it was impossible to persuade them to extinguish the pine knots
which they had lighted to serve as torches.

Prayers and threats were alike unavailing. \x93They wished to see their
way,\x94 they said.

Poor deluded creatures! They had not the slightest conception of the
difficulties and the perils of the enterprise they had undertaken.

They were going to capture a fortified city, defended by a numerous
garrison, as if they were bound on a pleasure jaunt.

Gay, thoughtless, and animated by the imperturbable confidence of a
child, they were marching along, arm in arm, singing patriotic songs.

On horseback, in the centre of the band, M. Lacheneur felt his hair
turning white with anguish.

Would not this delay ruin everything? What would the others, who were
waiting at the Croix d\x92Arcy, think! What were they doing at this very
moment?

\x93Onward! onward!\x94 he repeated.

Maurice, Chanlouineau, Jean, Marie-Anne, and about twenty of the old
soldiers of the Empire, understood and shared Lacheneur\x92s despair. They
knew the terrible danger they were incurring, and they, too, repeated:

\x93Faster! Let us march faster!\x94

Vain exhortation! It pleased these people to go slowly.

Suddenly the entire band stopped. Some of the peasants, chancing to look
back, had seen the lamps of Mlle. de Courtornieu\x92s carriage gleaming in
the darkness.

It came rapidly onward, and soon overtook them. The peasants recognized
the coachman\x92s livery, and greeted the vehicle with shouts of derision.

M. de Courtornieu, by his avariciousness, had made even more enemies
than the Duc de Sairmeuse; and all the peasants who thought they had
more or less reason to complain of his extortions were delighted at this
opportunity to frighten him.

For, that they were not thinking of vengeance, is conclusively proved by
the sequel.

Hence great was their disappointment when, on opening the carriage-door,
they saw within the vehicle only Mlle. Blanche and Aunt Medea, who
uttered the most piercing shrieks.

But Mlle. de Courtornieu was a brave woman.

\x93Who are you?\x94 she demanded, haughtily, \x93and what do you desire?\x94

\x93You will know to-morrow,\x94 replied Chanlouineau. \x93Until then, you are
our prisoner.\x94

\x93I see that you do not know who I am, boy.\x94

\x93Excuse me. I do know who you are, and, for this very reason, I request
you to descend from your carriage. She must leave the carriage, must she
not, Monsieur d\x92Escorval?\x94

\x93Very well! I declare that I will not leave my carriage; tear me from it
if you dare!\x94

They would certainly have dared had it not been for Marie-Anne, who
checked some peasants as they were springing toward the carriage.

\x93Let Mademoiselle de Courtornieu pass without hinderance,\x94 said she.

But this permission might produce such serious consequences that
Chanlouineau found courage to resist.

\x93That cannot be, Marie-Anne,\x94 said he; \x93she will warn her father. We
must keep her as a hostage; her life may save the life of our friends.\x94

Mlle. Blanche had not recognized her former friend, any more than she
had suspected the intentions of this crowd of men.

But Marie-Anne\x92s name, uttered with that of d\x92Escorval enlightened her
at once.

She understood it all, and trembled with rage at the thought that she
was at the mercy of her rival. She resolved to place herself under no
obligation to Marie-Anne Lacheneur.

\x93Very well,\x94 said she, \x93we will descend.\x94

Her former friend checked her.

\x93No,\x94 said she, \x93no! This is not the place for a young girl.\x94

\x93For an honest young girl, you should say,\x94 replied Blanche, with a
sneer.

Chanlouineau was standing only a few feet from the speaker with his
gun in his hand. If a man had uttered those words he would have been
instantly killed. Marie-Anne did not deign to notice them.

\x93Mademoiselle will turn back,\x94 she said, calmly; \x93and as she can reach
Montaignac by the other road, two men will accompany her as far as
Courtornieu.\x94

She was obeyed. The carriage turned and rolled away, but not so quickly
that Marie-Anne failed to hear Blanche cry:

\x93Beware, Marie! I will make you pay dearly for your insulting
patronage!\x94

The hours were flying by. This incident had occupied ten minutes
more--ten centuries--and the last trace of order had disappeared.

M. Lacheneur could have wept with rage. He called Maurice and
Chanlouineau.

\x93I place you in command,\x94 said he; \x93do all that you can to hurry these
idiots onward. I will ride as fast as I can to the Croix d\x92Arcy.\x94

He started, but he was only a short distance in advance of his followers
when he saw two men running toward him at full speed. One was clad in
the attire of a well-to-do bourgeois; the other wore the old uniform of
captain in the Emperor\x92s guard.

\x93What has happened?\x94 Lacheneur cried, in alarm.

\x93All is discovered!\x94

\x93Great God!\x94

\x93Major Carini has been arrested.\x94

\x93By whom? How?\x94

\x93Ah! there was a fatality about it! Just as we were perfecting our
arrangements to capture the Duc de Sairmeuse, the duke surprised us. We
fled, but the cursed noble pursued us, overtook Carini, seized him by
the collar, and dragged him to the citadel.\x94

Lacheneur was overwhelmed; the abbe\x92s gloomy prophecy again resounded in
his ears.

\x93So I warned my friends, and hastened to warn you,\x94 continued the
officer. \x93The affair is an utter failure!\x94

He was only too correct; and Lacheneur knew it even better than he did.
But, blinded by hatred and anger, he would not acknowledge that the
disaster was irreparable.

\x93Let Mademoiselle de Counornieu pass without hinderance.\x94

He affected a calmness which he did not in the least feel.

\x93You are easily discouraged, gentlemen,\x94 he said, bitterly. \x93There is,
at least, one more chance.\x94

\x93The devil! Then you have resources of which we are ignorant?\x94

\x93Perhaps--that depends. You have just passed the Croix d\x92Arcy; did you
tell any of those people what you have just told me?\x94

\x93Not a word.\x94

\x93How many men are there at the rendezvous?\x94

\x93At least two thousand.\x94

\x93And what is their mood?\x94

\x93They are burning to begin the struggle. They are cursing our slowness,
and told me to entreat you to make haste.\x94

\x93In that case our cause is not lost,\x94 said Lacheneur, with a threatening
gesture. \x93Wait here until the peasants come up, and say to them that
you were sent to tell them to make haste. Bring them on as quickly
as possible, and have confidence in me; I will be responsible for the
success of the enterprise.\x94

He said this, then putting spurs to his horse, galloped away. He
had deceived the men. He had no other resources. He did not have the
slightest hope of success. It was an abominable falsehood. But, if this
edifice, which he had erected with such care and labor, was to totter
and fall, he desired to be buried beneath its ruins. They would be
defeated; he was sure of it, but what did that matter? In the conflict
he would seek death and find it.

Bitter discontent pervaded the crowd at the Croix d\x92Arcy; and after
the passing of the officers, who had hastened to warn Lacheneur of the
disaster at Montaignac, the murmurs of dissatisfaction were changed to
curses.

These peasants, nearly two thousand in number, were indignant at not
finding their leader awaiting them at the rendezvous.

\x93Where is he?\x94 they asked. \x93Who knows but he is afraid at the last
moment? Perhaps he is concealing himself while we are risking our lives
and the bread of our children here.\x94

And already the epithets of mischief-maker and traitor were flying from
lip to lip, and increasing the anger in every breast.

Some were of the opinion that the crowd should disperse; others wished
to march against Montaignac without Lacheneur, and that, immediately.

But these deliberations were interrupted by the furious gallop of a
horse.

A carriage appeared, and stopped in the centre of the open space.

Two men alighted; Baron d\x92Escorval and Abbe Midon.

They were in advance of Lacheneur. They thought they had arrived in
time.

Alas! here, as on the Reche, all their efforts, all their entreaties,
and all their threats were futile.

They had come in the hope of arresting the movement; they only
precipitated it.

\x93We have gone too far to draw back,\x94 exclaimed one of the neighboring
farmers, who was the recognized leader in Lacheneur\x92s absence. \x93If death
is before us, it is also behind us. To attack and conquer--that is our
only hope of salvation. Forward, then, at once. That is the only way of
disconcerting our enemies. He who hesitates is a coward! Forward!\x94

A shout of approval from two thousand throats replied:

\x93Forward!\x94

They unfurled the tri-color, that much regretted flag that reminded
them of so much glory, and so many great misfortunes; the drums began to
beat, and with shouts of: \x93Vive Napoleon II.!\x94 the whole column took up
its line of march.

Pale, with clothing in disorder, and voices husky with fatigue and
emotion, M. d\x92Escorval and the abbe followed the rebels, imploring them
to listen to reason.

They saw the precipice toward which these misguided creatures were
rushing, and they prayed God for an inspiration to check them.

In fifty minutes the distance separating the Croix d\x92Arcy from
Montaignac is traversed.

Soon they see the gate of the citadel, which was to have been opened for
them by their friends within the walls.

It is eleven o\x92clock, and yet this gate stands open.

Does not this circumstance prove that their friends are masters of the
town, and that they are awaiting them in force?

They advance, so certain of success that those who have guns do not even
take the trouble to load them.

M. d\x92Escorval and the abbe alone foresee the catastrophe.

The leader of the expedition is near them, they entreat him not to
neglect the commonest precautions, they implore him to send some two
men on in advance to reconnoitre; they, themselves, offer to go, on
condition that the peasants will await their return before proceeding
farther.

But their prayers are unheeded.

The peasants pass the outer line of fortifications in safety. The head
of the advancing column reaches the drawbridge.

The enthusiasm amounts to delirium; who will be the first to enter is
the only thought.

Alas! at that very moment a pistol is fired.

It is a signal, for instantly, and on every side, resounds a terrible
fusillade.

Three or four peasants fall, mortally wounded. The rest pause, frozen
with terror, thinking only of escape.

The indecision is terrible; but the leader encourages his men, there are
a few of Napoleon\x92s old soldiers in the ranks. A struggle begins, all
the more frightful by reason of the darkness!

But it is not the cry of \x93Forward!\x94 that suddenly rends the air.

The voice of a coward sends up the cry of panic:

\x93We are betrayed! Let him save himself who can!\x94

This is the end of all order. A wild fear seizes the throng; and these
men flee madly, despairingly, scattered as withered leaves are scattered
by the power of the tempest.



CHAPTER XXIII

Chupin\x92s stupefying revelations and the thought that Martial, the heir
of his name and dukedom, should degrade himself so low as to enter into
a conspiracy with vulgar peasants, drove the Duc de Sairmeuse nearly
wild.

But the Marquis de Courtornieu\x92s coolness restored the duke\x92s
_sang-froid_.

He ran to the barracks, and in less than half an hour five hundred
foot-soldiers and three hundred of the Montaignac chasseurs were under
arms.

With these forces at his disposal it would have been easy enough
to suppress this movement without the least bloodshed. It was only
necessary to close the gates of the city. It was not with fowling-pieces
and clubs that these poor peasants could force an entrance into a
fortified town.

But such moderation did not suit a man of the duke\x92s violent
temperament, a man who was ever longing for struggle and excitement, a
man whose ambition prompted him to display his zeal.

He had ordered the gate of the citadel to be left open, and had
concealed some of his soldiers behind the parapets of the outer
fortifications.

He then stationed himself where he could command a view of the approach
to the citadel, and deliberately chose his moment for giving the signal
to fire.

Still, a strange thing happened. Of four hundred shots, fired into a
dense crowd of fifteen hundred men, only three had hit the mark.

More humane than their chief, nearly all the soldiers had fired in the
air.

But the duke had not time to investigate this strange occurrence now.
He leaped into the saddle, and placing himself at the head of about
five hundred men, cavalry and infantry, he started in pursuit of the
fugitives.

The peasants had the advantage of their pursuers by about twenty
minutes.

Poor simple creatures!

They might easily have made their escape. They had only to disperse,
to scatter; but, unfortunately, the thought never once occurred to the
majority of them. A few ran across the fields and gained their homes
in safety; the others, frantic and despairing, overcome by the strange
vertigo that seizes the bravest in moments of panic, fled like a flock
of frightened sheep.

Fear lent them wings, for did they not hear each moment shots fired at
the laggards?

But there was one man, who, at each of these detonations, received, as
it were, his death-wound--this man was Lacheneur.

He had reached the Croix d\x92Arcy just as the firing at Montaignac began.
He listened and waited. No discharge of musketry replied to the first
fusillade. There might have been butchery, but combat, no.

Lacheneur understood it all; and he wished that every ball had pierced
his own heart.

He put spurs to his horse and galloped to the crossroads. The place was
deserted. At the entrance of one of the roads stood the cabriolet which
had brought M. d\x92Escorval and the abbe.

At last M. Lacheneur saw the fugitives approaching in the distance. He
dashed forward, to meet them, trying by mingled curses and insults to
stay their flight.

\x93Cowards!\x94 he vociferated, \x93traitors! You flee--and you are ten against
one! Where are you going? To your own homes. Fools! you will find
the gendarmes there only awaiting your coming to conduct you to the
scaffold. Is it not better to die with your weapons in your hands?
Come--right about. Follow me! We may still conquer. Reinforcements are
at hand; two thousand men are following me!\x94

He promised them two thousand men; had he promised them ten thousand,
twenty thousand--an army and cannon, it would have made no difference.

Not until they reached the wide-open space of the cross-roads, where
they had talked so confidently scarcely an hour before, did the most
intelligent of the throng regain their senses, while the others fled in
every direction.

About a hundred of the bravest and most determined of the conspirators
gathered around M. Lacheneur. In the little crowd was the abbe, gloomy
and despondent. He had been separated from the baron. What had been his
fate? Had he been killed or taken prisoner? Was it possible that he had
made his escape?

The worthy priest dared not go away. He waited, hoping that his
companion might rejoin him, and deemed himself fortunate in finding
the carriage still there. He was still waiting when the remnant of the
column confided to Maurice and Chanlouineau came up.

Of the five hundred men that composed it on its departure from
Sairmeuse, only fifteen remained, including the two retired officers.

Marie-Anne was in the centre of this little party.

M. Lacheneur and his friends were trying to decide what course it was
best for them to pursue. Should each man go his way? or should they
unite, and by an obstinate resistance, give all their comrades time to
reach their homes?

The voice of Chanlouineau put an end to all hesitation.

\x93I have come to fight,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93and I shall sell my life dearly.\x94

\x93We will make a stand then!\x94 cried the others.

But Chanlouineau did not follow them to the spot which they had
considered best adapted to the prolonged defence; he called Maurice and
drew him a little aside.

\x93You, Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 he said, almost roughly, \x93are going to leave
here and at once.\x94

\x93I--I came here, Chanlouineau, as you did, to do my duty.\x94

\x93Your duty, Monsieur, is to serve Marie-Anne. Go at once, and take her
with you.\x94

\x93I shall remain,\x94 said Maurice, firmly.

He was going to join his comrades when Chanlouineau stopped him.

\x93You have no right to sacrifice your life here,\x94 he said, quietly. \x93Your
life belongs to the woman who has given herself to you.\x94

\x93Wretch! how dare you!\x94

Chanlouineau sadly shook his head.

\x93What is the use of denying it?\x94 said he.

\x93It was so great a temptation that only an angel could have resisted
it. It was not your fault, nor was it hers. Lacheneur was a bad father.
There was a day when I wished either to kill myself or to kill you, I
knew not which. Ah! only once again will you be as near death as you
were that day. You were scarcely five paces from the muzzle of my gun.
It was God who stayed my hand by reminding me of her despair. Now that I
am to die, as well as Lacheneur, someone must care for Marie-Anne.
Swear that you will marry her. You may be involved in some difficulty on
account of this affair; but I have here the means of saving you.\x94

A sound of firing interrupted him; the soldiers of the Duc de Sairmeuse
were approaching.

\x93Good God!\x94 exclaimed Chanlouineau, \x93and Marie-Anne!\x94

They rushed in pursuit of her, and Maurice was the first to discover
her, standing in the centre of the open space clinging to the neck of
her father\x92s horse. He took her in his arms, trying to drag her away.

\x93Come!\x94 said he, \x93come!\x94

But she refused.

\x93Leave me, leave me!\x94 she entreated.

\x93But all is lost!\x94

\x93Yes, I know that all is lost--even honor. Leave me here. I must remain;
I must die, and thus hide my shame. I must, it shall be so!\x94

Just then Chanlouineau appeared.

Had he divined the secret of her resistance? Perhaps; but without
uttering a word, he lifted her in his strong arms as if she had been a
child and bore her to the carriage guarded by Abbe Midon.

\x93Get in,\x94 he said, addressing the priest, \x93and quick--take Mademoiselle
Lacheneur. Now, Maurice, in your turn!\x94

But already the duke\x92s soldiers were masters of the field. Seeing a
group in the shadow, at a little distance, they rushed to the spot.

The heroic Chanlouineau seized his gun, and brandishing it like a club,
held the enemy at bay, giving Maurice time to spring into the carriage,
catch the reins and start the horse off at a gallop.

All the cowardice and all the heroism displayed on that terrible night
will never be really known.

Two minutes after the departure of Marie-Anne and of Maurice,
Chanlouineau was still battling with the foe.

A dozen or more soldiers were in front of him. Twenty shots had been
fired, but not a ball had struck him. His enemies always believed him
invulnerable.

\x93Surrender!\x94 cried the soldiers, amazed by such valor; \x93surrender!\x94

\x93Never! never!\x94

He was truly formidable; he brought to the support of his marvellous
courage a superhuman strength and agility. No one dared come within
reach of those brawny arms that revolved with the power and velocity of
the sails of a wind-mill.

Then it was that a soldier, confiding his musket to the care of a
companion, threw himself flat upon his belly, and crawling unobserved
around behind this obscure hero, seized him by the legs. He tottered
like an oak beneath the blow of the axe, struggled furiously, but taken
at such a disadvantage was thrown to the ground, crying, as he fell:

\x93Help! friends, help!\x94

But no one responded to this appeal.

At the other end of the open space those upon whom he called had, after
a desperate struggle, yielded.

The main body of the duke\x92s infantry was near at hand.

The rebels heard the drums beating the charge; they could see the
bayonets gleaming in the sunlight.

Lacheneur, who had remained in the same spot, utterly ignoring the shot
that whistled around him, felt that his few remaining comrades were
about to be exterminated.

In that supreme moment the whole past was revealed to him as by a flash
of lightning. He read and judged his own heart. Hatred had led him to
crime. He loathed himself for the humiliation which he had imposed
upon his daughter. He cursed himself for the falsehoods by which he had
deceived these brave men, for whose death he would be accountable.

Enough blood had flowed; he must save those who remained.

\x93Cease firing, my friends,\x94 he commanded; \x93retreat!\x94

They obeyed--he could see them scatter in every direction.

He too could flee; was he not mounted upon a gallant steed which would
bear him beyond the reach of the enemy?

But he had sworn that he would not survive defeat. Maddened with
remorse, despair, sorrow, and impotent rage, he saw no refuge save in
death.

He had only to wait for it; it was fast approaching; he preferred to
rush to meet it. Gathering up the reins, he dashed the rowels in his
steed and, alone, charged upon the enemy.

The shock was rude, the ranks opened, there was a moment of confusion.

But Lacheneur\x92s horse, its chest cut open by the bayonets, reared, beat
the air with his hoofs, then fell backward, burying his rider beneath
him.

And the soldiers marched on, not suspecting that beneath the body of the
horse the brave rider was struggling to free himself.

It was half-past one in the morning--the place was deserted.

Nothing disturbed the silence save the moans of a few wounded men, who
called upon their comrades for succor.

But before thinking of the wounded, M. de Sairmeuse must decide upon the
course which would be most likely to redound to his advantage and to his
political glory.

Now that the insurrection had been suppressed, it was necessary to
exaggerate its magnitude as much as possible, in order that his reward
should be in proportion to the service supposed to have been rendered.

Some fifteen or twenty rebels had been captured; but that was not a
sufficient number to give the victory the _eclat_ which he desired. He
must find more culprits to drag before the provost-marshal or before a
military commission.

He, therefore, divided his troops into several detachments, and sent
them in every direction with orders to explore the villages, search all
isolated houses, and arrest all suspected persons.

His task here having been completed, he again recommended the most
implacable severity, and started on a brisk trot for Montaignac.

He was delighted; certainly he blessed--as had M. de Courtornieu--these
honest and artless conspirators; but one fear, which he vainly tried to
dismiss, impaired his satisfaction.

His son, the Marquis de Sairmeuse, was he, or was he not, implicated in
this conspiracy?

He could not, he would not, believe it; and yet the recollection of
Chupin\x92s assurance troubled him.

On the other hand, what could have become of Martial? The servant who
had been sent to warn him--had he met him? Was the marquis returning?
And by which road? Could it be possible that he had fallen into the
hands of the peasants?

The duke\x92s relief was intense when, on returning home, after a
conference with M. de Courtornieu, he learned that Martial had arrived
about a quarter of an hour before.

\x93The marquis went at once to his own room on dismounting from his
horse,\x94 added the servant.

\x93Very well,\x94 replied the duke. \x93I will seek him there.\x94

Before the servants he said, \x93Very well;\x94 but secretly, he exclaimed:
\x93Abominable impertinence! What! I am on horseback at the head of my
troops, my life imperilled, and my son goes quietly to bed without even
assuring himself of my safety!\x94

He reached his son\x92s room, but found the door closed and locked on the
inside. He rapped.

\x93Who is there?\x94 demanded Martial.

\x93It is I; open the door.\x94

Martial drew the bolt; M. de Sairmeuse entered, but the sight that met
his gaze made him tremble.

Upon the table was a basin of blood, and Martial, with chest bared, was
bathing a large wound in his right breast.

\x93You have been fighting!\x94 exclaimed the duke, in a husky voice.

\x93Yes.\x94

\x93Ah! then you were, indeed----\x94

\x93I was where? what?\x94

\x93At the convocation of these miserable peasants who, in their parricidal
folly, have dared to dream of the overthrow of the best of princes!\x94

Martial\x92s face betrayed successively profound surprise, and a more
violent desire to laugh.

\x93I think you must be jesting, Monsieur,\x94 he replied.

The young man\x92s words and manner reassured the duke a little, without
entirely dissipating his suspicions.

\x93Then, these vile rascals attacked you?\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Not at all. I have been simply obliged to fight a duel.\x94

\x93With whom? Name the scoundrel who has dared to insult you!\x94

A faint flush tinged Martial\x92s cheek; but it was in his usual careless
tone that he replied:

\x93Upon my word, no; I shall not give his name. You would trouble him,
perhaps; and I really owe the fellow a debt of gratitude. It happened
upon the highway; he might have assassinated me without ceremony, but he
offered me open combat. Besides, he was wounded far more severely than
I.\x94

All M. de Sairmeuse\x92s doubts had returned.

\x93And why, instead of summoning a physician, are you attempting to dress
this wound yourself?\x94

\x93Because it is a mere trifle, and because I wish to keep it a secret.\x94

The duke shook his head.

\x93All this is scarcely plausible,\x94 he remarked, \x93especially after the
assurance of your complicity, which I have received.\x94

\x93Ah!\x94 said he; \x93and from whom? From your spy-in-chief, no doubt--that
rascal Chupin. It surprises me to see that you can hesitate for a moment
between the word of your son and the stories of such a wretch.\x94

\x93Do not speak ill of Chupin, Marquis; he is a very useful man. Had it
not been for him, we should have been taken unawares. It was through him
that I learned of this vast conspiracy organized by Lacheneur----\x94

\x93What! is it Lacheneur--\x94

\x93Who is at the head of the movement? yes, Marquis. Ah! your usual
discernment has failed you in this instance. What, you have been a
constant visitor at this house, and you have suspected nothing? And you
contemplate a diplomatic career! But this is not all. You know now for
what purpose the money which you so lavishly bestowed upon them has been
employed. They have used it to purchase guns, powder, and ammunition.\x94

The duke had become satisfied of the injustice of his suspicions; but he
was now endeavoring to irritate his son.

It was a fruitless effort. Martial knew very well that he had been
duped, but he did not think of resenting it.

\x93If Lacheneur has been captured,\x94 he thought; \x93if he should be condemned
to death and if I should save him, Marie-Anne would refuse me nothing.\x94



CHAPTER XXIV

Having penetrated the mystery that enveloped his son\x92s frequent absence,
the Baron d\x92Escorval had concealed his fears and his chagrin from his
wife.

It was the first time that he had ever had a secret from the faithful
and courageous companion of his existence.

Without warning her, he went to beg Abbe Midon to follow him to the
Reche, to the house of M. Lacheneur.

The silence, on his part, explains Mme. d\x92Escorval\x92s astonishment when,
on the arrival of the dinner-hour, neither her son nor her husband
appeared.

Maurice was sometimes late; but the baron, like all great workers, was
punctuality itself. What extraordinary thing could have happened?

Her surprise became uneasiness when she learned that her husband had
departed in company with Abbe Midon. They had harnessed the horse
themselves, and instead of driving through the court-yard as usual, they
had driven through the stable-yard into a lane leading to the public
road.

What did all this mean? Why these strange precautions?

Mme. d\x92Escorval waited, oppressed by vague forebodings.

The servants shared her anxiety. The baron was so equable in temper, so
kind and just to his inferiors, that his servants adored him, and would
have gone through a fiery furnace for him.

So, about ten o\x92clock, they hastened to lead to their mistress a peasant
who was returning from Sairmeuse.

This man, who was slightly intoxicated, told the strangest and most
incredible stories.

He said that all the peasantry for ten leagues around were under arms,
and that the Baron d\x92Escorval was the leader of the revolt.

He did not doubt the final success of the movement, declaring that
Napoleon II., Marie-Louise, and all the marshals of the Empire were
concealed in Montaignac.

Alas! it must be confessed that Lacheneur had not hesitated to utter the
grossest falsehoods in his anxiety to gain followers.

Mme. d\x92Escorval could not be deceived by these ridiculous stories, but
she could believe, and she did believe that the baron was the prime
mover in this insurrection.

And this belief, which would have carried consternation to the hearts of
so many women, reassured her.

She had entire, absolute, and unlimited faith in her husband. She
believed him superior to all other men--infallible, in short. The moment
he said: \x93This is so!\x94 she believed it implicitly.

Hence, if her husband had organized a movement that movement was
right. If he had attempted it, it was because he expected to succeed.
Therefore, it was sure to succeed.

Impatient, however, to know the result, she sent the gardener to
Sairmeuse with orders to obtain information without awakening suspicion,
if possible, and to hasten back as soon as he could learn anything of a
positive nature.

He returned in about two hours, pale, frightened, and in tears.

The disaster had already become known, and had been related to him with
the most terrible exaggerations. He had been told that hundreds of
men had been killed, and that a whole army was scouring the country,
massacring defenceless peasants and their families.

While he was telling his story, Mme. d\x92Escorval felt that she was going
mad.

She saw--yes, positively, she saw her son and her husband, dead--or
still worse, mortally wounded upon the public highway--they were lying
with their arms crossed upon their breasts, livid, bloody, their eyes
staring wildly--they were begging for water--a drop of water.

\x93I will find them!\x94 she exclaimed, in frenzied accents. \x93I will go to
the field of battle, I will seek for them among the dead, until I find
them. Light some torches, my friends, and come with me, for you will aid
me, will you not? You loved them; they were so good! You would not leave
their dead bodies unburied! oh! the wretches! the wretches who have
killed them!\x94

The servants were hastening to obey when the furious gallop of a horse
and the sound of carriage-wheels were heard upon the drive.

\x93Here they are!\x94 exclaimed the gardener; \x93here they are!\x94

Mme. d\x92Escorval, followed by the servants, rushed to the door just in
time to see a cabriolet enter the court-yard, and the horse, panting,
exhausted, and flecked with foam, miss his footing, and fall.

Abbe Midon and Maurice had already leaped to the ground and were lifting
out an apparently lifeless body.

Even Marie-Anne\x92s great energy had not been able to resist so many
successive shocks; the last trial had overwhelmed her. Once in the
carriage, all immediate danger having disappeared, the excitement which
had sustained her fled. She became unconscious, and all the efforts of
Maurice and of the priest had failed to restore her.

But Mme. d\x92Escorval did not recognize Mlle. Lacheneur in the masculine
habiliments in which she was clothed.

She only saw that it was not her husband whom they had brought with
them; and a convulsive shudder shook her from head to foot.

\x93Your father, Maurice!\x94 she exclaimed, in a stifled voice; \x93and your
father!\x94

The effect was terrible. Until that moment, Maurice and the cure had
comforted themselves with the hope that M. d\x92Escorval would reach home
before them.

Maurice tottered, and almost dropped his precious burden. The abbe
perceived it, and at a sign from him, two servants gently lifted
Marie-Anne, and bore her to the house.

Then the cure approached Mme. d\x92Escorval.

\x93Monsieur will soon be here, Madame,\x94 said he, at hazard; \x93he fled
first----\x94

\x93Baron d\x92Escorval could not have fled,\x94 she interrupted. \x93A general
does not desert when face to face with the enemy. If a panic seizes his
soldiers, he rushes to the front, and either leads them back to combat,
or takes his own life.\x94

\x93Mother!\x94 faltered Maurice; \x93mother!\x94

\x93Oh! do not try to deceive me. My husband was the organizer of this
conspiracy--his confederates beaten and dispersed must have proved
themselves cowards. God have mercy upon me; my husband is dead!\x94

In spite of the abbe\x92s quickness of perception, he could not understand
such assertions on the part of the baroness; he thought that sorrow and
terror must have destroyed her reason.

\x93Ah! Madame,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93the baron had nothing to do with this
movement; far from it----\x94

He paused; all this was passing in the court-yard, in the glare of the
torches which had been lighted up by the servants. Anyone in the public
road could hear and see all. He realized the imprudence of which they
were guilty.

\x93Come, Madame,\x94 said he, leading the baroness toward the house; \x93and
you, also, Maurice, come!\x94

It was with the silent and passive submission of great misery that Mme.
d\x92Escorval obeyed the cure.

Her body alone moved in mechanical obedience; her mind and heart were
flying through space to the man who was her all, and whose mind and
heart were even then, doubtless, calling to her from the dread abyss
into which he had fallen.

But when she had passed the threshold of the drawing-room, she trembled
and dropped the priest\x92s arm, rudely recalled to the present reality.

She recognized Marie-Anne in the lifeless form extended upon the sofa.

\x93Mademoiselle Lacheneur!\x94 she faltered, \x93here in this costume--dead!\x94

One might indeed believe the poor girl dead, to see her lying there
rigid, cold, and as white as if the last drop of blood had been drained
from her veins. Her beautiful face had the immobility of marble; her
half-opened, colorless lips disclosed teeth convulsively clinched, and a
large dark-blue circle surrounded her closed eyelids.

Her long black hair, which she had rolled up closely to slip under her
peasant\x92s hat, had become unbound, and flowed down in rich masses over
her shoulders and trailed upon the floor.

\x93She is only in a state of syncope; there is no danger,\x94 declared the
abbe, after he had examined Marie-Anne. \x93It will not be long before she
regains consciousness.\x94

And then, rapidly but clearly, he gave the necessary directions to the
servants, who were astonished at their mistress.

Mme. d\x92Escorval looked on with eyes dilated with terror. She seemed
to doubt her own sanity, and incessantly passed her hand across her
forehead, thickly beaded with cold sweat.

\x93What a night!\x94 she murmured. \x93What a night!\x94

\x93I must remind you, Madame,\x94 said the priest, sympathizingly, but
firmly, \x93that reason and duty alike forbid you thus to yield to
despair! Wife, where is your energy? Christian, what has become of your
confidence in a just and beneficial God?\x94

\x93Oh! I have courage, Monsieur,\x94 faltered the wretched woman. \x93I am
brave!\x94

The abbe led her to a large arm-chair, where he forced her to seat
herself, and in a gentler tone, he resumed:

\x93Besides, why should you despair, Madame? Your son, certainly, is with
you in safety. Your husband has not compromised himself; he has done
nothing which I myself have not done.\x94

And briefly, but with rare precision, he explained the part which he and
the baron had played during this unfortunate evening.

But this recital, instead of reassuring the baroness, seemed to increase
her anxiety.

\x93I understand you,\x94 she interrupted, \x93and I believe you. But I also know
that all the people in the country round about are convinced that my
husband commanded the insurrectionists. They believe it, and they will
say it.\x94

\x93And what of that?\x94

\x93If he has been arrested, as you give me to understand, he will be
summoned before a court-martial. Was he not the friend of the Emperor?
That is a crime, as you very well know. He will be convicted and
sentenced to death.\x94

\x93No, Madame, no! Am I not here? I will appear before the tribunal, and I
shall say: \x91Here I am! I have seen and I know all.\x92\x94

\x93But they will arrest you, alas, Monsieur, because you are not a priest
according to the hearts of these cruel men. They will throw you in
prison, and you, will meet him upon the scaffold.\x94

Maurice had been listening, pale and trembling.

But on hearing these last words, he sank upon his knees, hiding his face
in his hands:

\x93Ah! I have killed my father!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Unhappy child! what do you say?\x94

The priest motioned him to be silent; but he did not see him, and he
pursued:

\x93My father was ignorant even of the existence of this conspiracy of
which Monsieur Lacheneur was the guiding spirit; but I knew it--I wished
him to succeed, because on his success depended the happiness of my
life. And then--wretch that I was!--when I wished to attract to our
ranks some timid or wavering accomplice, I used the loved and respected
name of d\x92Escorval. Ah, I was mad! I was mad!\x94

Then, with a despairing gesture, he added:

\x93And yet, even now, I have not the courage to curse my folly! Oh,
mother, mother, if you knew----\x94

His sobs interrupted him. Just then a faint moan was heard.

Marie-Anne was regaining consciousness. Already she had partially risen
from the sofa, and sat regarding this terrible scene with an air of
profound wonder, as if she did not understand it in the least.

Slowly and gently she put back her hair from her face, and opened and
closed her eyes, which seemed dazzled by the light of the candles.

She endeavored to speak, to ask some question, but Abbe Midon commanded
silence by a gesture.

Enlightened by the words of Mme. d\x92Escorval and by the confession of
Maurice, the abbe understood at once the extent of the frightful danger
that menaced the baron and his son.

How was this danger to be averted? What must be done?

He had no time for explanation or reflection; with each moment, a chance
of salvation fled. He must decide and act without delay.

The abbe was a brave man. He darted to the door, and called the servants
who were standing in the hall and on the staircase.

When they were gathered around him:

\x93Listen to me, intently,\x94 said he, in that quick and imperious voice
that impresses one with the certainty of approaching peril, \x93and
remember that your master\x92s life depends, perhaps, upon your discretion.
We can rely upon you, can we not?\x94

Every hand was raised as if to call upon God to witness their fidelity.

\x93In less than an hour,\x94 continued the priest, \x93the soldiers sent in
pursuit of the fugitives will be here. Not a word must be uttered in
regard to what has passed this evening. Everyone must be led to suppose
that I went away with the baron and returned alone. Not one of you
must have seen Mademoiselle Lacheneur. We are going to find a place of
concealment for her. Remember, my friends, if there is the slightest
suspicion of her presence here, all is lost. If the soldiers question
you, endeavor to convince them that Monsieur Maurice has not left the
house this evening.\x94

He paused, trying to think if he had forgotten any precaution that human
prudence could suggest, then added:

\x93One word more; to see you standing about at this hour of the night will
awaken suspicion at once. But this is what I desire. We will plead in
justification, the alarm that you feel at the absence of the baron, and
also the indisposition of madame--for madame is going to retire--she
will thus escape interrogation. And you, Maurice, run and change your
clothes; and, above all, wash your hands, and sprinkle some perfume upon
them.\x94

All present were so impressed with the imminence of the danger, that
they were more than willing to obey the priest\x92s orders.

Marie-Anne, as soon as she could be moved, was carried to a tiny room
under the roof. Mme. d\x92Escorval retired to her own apartment, and the
servants went back to the office.

Maurice and the abbe remained alone in the drawing-room, silent and
appalled by horrible forebodings.

The unusually calm face of the priest betrayed his terrible anxiety.
He now felt convinced that Baron d\x92Escorval was a prisoner, and all his
efforts were now directed toward removing any suspicion of complicity
from Maurice.

\x93This was,\x94 he reflected, \x93the only way to save the father.\x94

A violent peal of the bell attached to the gate interrupted his
meditations.

He heard the footsteps of the gardener as he hastened to open it, heard
the gate turn upon its hinges, then the measured tramp of soldiers in
the court-yard.

A loud voice commanded:

\x93Halt!\x94

The priest looked at Maurice and saw that he was as pale as death.

\x93Be calm,\x94 he entreated; \x93do not be alarmed. Do not lose your
self-possession--and do not forget my instructions.\x94

\x93Let them come,\x94 replied Maurice. \x93I am prepared!\x94

The drawing-room door was flung violently open, and a young man,
wearing the uniform of a captain of grenadiers, entered. He was scarcely
twenty-five years of age, tall, fair-haired, with blue eyes and little
waxed mustache. His whole person betokened an excessive elegance
exaggerated to the verge of the ridiculous. His face ordinarily must
have indicated extreme self-complacency; but at the present moment it
wore a really ferocious expression.

Behind him, in the passage, were a number of armed soldiers.

He cast a suspicious glance around the room, then, in a harsh voice:

\x93Who is the master of this house?\x94 he demanded.

\x93The Baron d\x92Escorval, my father, who is absent,\x94 replied Maurice.

\x93Where is he?\x94

The abbe, who, until now, had remained seated, rose.

\x93On hearing of the unfortunate outbreak of this evening,\x94 he replied,
\x93the baron and myself went to these peasants, in the hope of inducing
them to relinquish their foolish undertaking. They would not listen to
us. In the confusion that ensued, I became separated from the baron; I
returned here very anxious, and am now awaiting his return.\x94

The captain twisted his mustache with a sneering air.

\x93Not a bad invention!\x94 said he. \x93Only I do not believe a word of this
fiction.\x94

A light gleamed in the eyes of the priest, his lips trembled, but he
held his peace.

\x93Who are you?\x94 rudely demanded the officer.

\x93I am the cure of Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93Honest men ought to be in bed at this hour. And you are racing about
the country after rebellious peasants. Really, I do not know what
prevents me from ordering your arrest.\x94

That which did prevent him was the priestly robe, all powerful under the
Restoration. With Maurice he was more at ease.

\x93How many are there in this family?\x94

\x93Three; my father, my mother--ill at this moment--and myself.\x94

\x93And how many servants?\x94

\x93Seven--four men and three women.\x94

\x93You have neither received nor concealed anyone this evening?\x94

\x93No one.\x94

\x93It will be necessary to prove this,\x94 said the captain. And turning
toward the door:

\x93Corporal Bavois!\x94 he called.

This man was one of those old soldiers who had followed the Emperor
over all Europe. Two small, ferocious gray eyes lighted his tanned,
weather-beaten face, and an immense hooked nose surmounted a heavy,
bristling mustache.

\x93Bavois,\x94 commanded the officer, \x93you will take half a dozen men and
search this house from top to bottom. You are an old fox that knows a
thing or two. If there is any hiding-place here, you will be sure to
discover it; if anyone is concealed here, you will bring the person to
me. Go, and make haste!\x94

The corporal departed on his mission; the captain resumed his questions.

\x93And now,\x94 said he, turning to Maurice, \x93what have you been doing this
evening?\x94

The young man hesitated for an instant; then, with well-feigned
indifference, replied:

\x93I have not put my head outside the door this evening.\x94

\x93Hum! that must be proved. Let me see your hands.\x94

The soldier\x92s tone was so offensive that Maurice felt the angry blood
mount to his forehead. Fortunately, a warning glance from the abbe made
him restrain his wrath.

He offered his hands to the inspection of the captain, who examined them
carefully, outside and in, and finally smelled them.

\x93Ah! these hands are too white and smell too sweet to have been dabbling
in powder.\x94

He was evidently surprised that this young man should have had so little
courage as to remain in the shelter of the fireside while his father was
leading the peasants on to battle.

\x93Another thing,\x94 said he, \x93you must have weapons here.\x94

\x93Yes, hunting rifles.\x94

\x93Where are they?\x94

\x93In a small room on the ground-floor.\x94

\x93Take me there.\x94

They conducted him to the room, and on finding that none of the
double-barrelled guns had been used for some days, he seemed
considerably annoyed.

He appeared furious when the corporal came and told him that he had
searched everywhere, but had found nothing of a suspicious character.

\x93Send for the servants,\x94 was his next order.

But all the servants faithfully repeated the lesson which the abbe had
given them.

The captain saw that he was not likely to discover the mystery, although
he was well satisfied that one existed.

Swearing that they should pay dearly for it, if they were deceiving him,
he again called Bavois.

\x93I must continue my search,\x94 said he. \x93You, with two men, will remain
here, and render a strict account of all that you see and hear. If
Monsieur d\x92Escorval returns, bring him to me at once; do not allow him
to escape. Keep your eyes open, and good luck to you!\x94

He added a few words in a low voice, then left the room as abruptly as
he had entered it.

The departing footsteps of the soldiers were soon lost in the stillness
of the night, and then the corporal gave vent to his disgust in a
frightful oath.

\x93_Hein_!\x94 said he, to his men, \x93you have heard that cadet. Listen,
watch, arrest, report. So he takes us for spies! Ah! if our old leader
knew to what base uses his old soldiers were degraded!\x94

The two men responded by a sullen growl.

\x93As for you,\x94 pursued the old trooper, addressing Maurice and the abbe,
\x93I, Bavois, corporal of grenadiers, declare in my name and in that of my
two men, that you are as free as birds, and that we shall arrest no one.
More than that, if we can aid you in any way, we are at your service.
The little fool that commanded us this evening thought we were fighting.
Look at my gun; I have not fired a shot from it; and my comrades fired
only blank cartridges.\x94

The man might possibly be sincere, but it was scarcely probable.

\x93We have nothing to conceal,\x94 replied the cautious priest.

The old corporal gave a knowing wink.

\x93Ah! you distrust me! You are wrong; and I am going to prove it.
Because, you see, though it is easy to gull that fool who just left
here, it is not so easy to deceive Corporal Bavois. Very well! it was
scarcely prudent to leave in the court-yard a gun that certainly had not
been charged for firing at swallows.\x94

The cure and Maurice exchanged a glance of consternation. Maurice now
recollected, for the first time, that when he sprang from the carriage
to lift out Marie-Anne, he propped his loaded gun against the wall. It
had escaped the notice of the servants.

\x93Secondly,\x94 pursued Bavois, \x93there is someone concealed in the attic. I
have excellent ears. Thirdly, I arranged it so that no one should enter
the sick lady\x92s room.\x94

Maurice needed no further proof. He extended his hand to the corporal,
and, in a voice trembling with emotion, he said:

\x93You are a brave man!\x94

A few moments later, Maurice, the abbe, and Mme. d\x92Escorval were again
assembled in the drawing-room, deliberating upon the measures which must
be taken, when Marie-Anne appeared.

She was still frightfully pale; but her step was firm, her manner quiet
and composed.

\x93I must leave this house,\x94 she said to the baroness. \x93Had I been
conscious, I would never have accepted hospitality which is likely to
bring dire misfortune on your family. Alas! your acquaintance with
me has cost you too many tears and too much sorrow already. Do
you understand now why I wished you to regard us as strangers? A
presentiment told me that my family would be fatal to yours!\x94

\x93Poor child!\x94 exclaimed Mme. d\x92Escorval; \x93where will you go?\x94

Marie-Anne lifted her beautiful eyes to the heaven in which she placed
her trust.

\x93I do not know, Madame,\x94 she replied; \x93but duty commands me to go. I
must learn what has become of my father and my brother, and share their
fate.\x94

\x93What!\x94 exclaimed Maurice; \x93still this thought of death. You, who no
longer----\x94

He paused; a secret which was not his own had almost escaped his lips.
But visited by a sudden inspiration, he threw himself at his mother\x92s
feet.

\x93Oh, my mother! my dearest mother, do not allow her to depart. I may
perish in my attempt to save my father. She will be your daughter
then--she whom I have loved so much. You will encircle her with your
tender and protecting love----\x94

Marie-Anne remained.



CHAPTER XXV

The secret which approaching death had wrestled from Marie-Anne in the
fortification at the Croix d\x92Arcy, Mme. d\x92Escorval was ignorant of when
she joined her entreaties to those of her son to induce the unfortunate
girl to remain.

But the fact occasioned Maurice scarcely an uneasiness.

His faith in his mother was complete, absolute; he was sure that she
would forgive when she learned the truth.

Loving and chaste wives and mothers are always most indulgent to those
who have been led astray by the voice of passion.

Such noble women can, with impunity, despise and brave the prejudices of
hypocrites.

These reflections made Maurice feel more tranquil in regard to
Marie-Anne\x92s future, and he now thought only of his father.

Day was breaking; he declared that he would assume some disguise and go
to Montaignac at once.

On hearing these words, Mme. d\x92Escorval turned and hid her face in the
sofa-cushions to stifle her sobs.

She was trembling for her husband\x92s life, and now her son must
precipitate himself into danger. Perhaps before the sun sank to rest,
she would have neither husband nor son.

And yet she did not say \x93no.\x94 She felt that Maurice was only fulfilling
a sacred duty. She would have loved him less had she supposed him
capable of cowardly hesitation. She would have dried her tears, if
necessary, to bid him \x93go.\x94

Moreover, what was not preferable to the agony of suspense which they
had been enduring for hours?

Maurice had reached the door when the abbe stopped him.

\x93You must go to Montaignac,\x94 said he, \x93but it would be folly to disguise
yourself. You would certainly be recognized, and the saying: \x91He who
conceals himself is guilty,\x92 will assuredly be applied to you. You must
go openly, with head erect, and you must even exaggerate the assurance
of innocence. Go straight to the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de
Courtornieu. I will accompany you; we will go in the carriage.\x94

Maurice seemed undecided.

\x93Obey these counsels, my son,\x94 said Mme. d\x92Escorval; \x93the abbe knows
much better than we do what is best.\x94

\x93I will obey, mother.\x94

The cure had not waited for this assent to go and give an order for
harnessing the horses. Mme. d\x92Escorval left the room to write a few
lines to a lady friend, whose husband exerted considerable influence in
Montaignac. Maurice and Marie-Anne were left alone.

It was the first moment of freedom and solitude which they had found
since Marie-Anne\x92s confession.

They stood for a moment, silent and motionless, then Maurice advanced,
and clasping her in his arms, he whispered:

\x93Marie-Anne, my darling, my beloved, I did not know that one could love
more fondly than I loved you yesterday; but now--And you--you wish for
death when another precious life depends upon yours.\x94

She shook her head sadly.

\x93I was terrified,\x94 she faltered. \x93The future of shame that I saw--that
I still--alas! see before me, appalled me. Now I am resigned. I will
uncomplainingly endure the punishment for my horrible fault--I will
submit to the insults and disgrace that await me!\x94

\x93Insults, to you! Ah! woe to who dares! But will you not now be my wife
in the sight of men, as you are in the sight of God? The failure of your
father\x92s scheme sets you free!\x94

\x93No, no, Maurice, I am not free! Ah! it is you who are pitiless! I see
only too well that you curse me, that you curse the day when we met for
the first time! Confess it! Say it!\x94

Marie-Anne lifted her streaming eyes to his.

\x93Ah! I should lie if I said that. My cowardly heart has not that much
courage! I suffer--I am disgraced and humiliated, but----\x94

He could not finish; he drew her to him, and their lips and their tears
met in one long kiss.

\x93You love me,\x94 exclaimed Maurice, \x93you love me in spite of all! We shall
succeed. I will save your father, and mine--I will save your brother!\x94

The horses were neighing and stamping in the courtyard. The abbe cried:
\x93Come, let us start.\x94 Mme. d\x92Escorval entered with a letter, which she
handed to Maurice.

She clasped in a long and convulsive embrace the son whom she feared she
should never see again; then, summoning all her courage, she pushed him
away, uttering only the single word:

\x93Go!\x94

He departed; and when the sound of the carriage-wheels had died away
in the distance, Mme. d\x92Escorval and Marie-Anne fell upon their knees,
imploring the mercy and aid of a just God.

They could only pray. The cure and Maurice could act.

Abbe Midon\x92s plan, which he explained to young d\x92Escorval, as the horses
dashed along, was as simple as the situation was terrible.

\x93If, by confessing your own guilt, you could save your father, I should
tell you to deliver yourself up, and to confess the whole truth. Such
would be your duty. But this sacrifice would be not only useless, but
dangerous. Your confession of guilt would only implicate your father
still more. You would be arrested, but they would not release him, and
you would both be tried and convicted. Let us, then, allow--I will not
say justice, for that would be blasphemy--but these blood-thirsty men,
who call themselves judges, to pursue their course, and attribute all
that you have done to your father. When the trial comes, you will prove
his innocence, and produce alibis so incontestable, that they will be
forced to acquit him. And I understand the people of our country so
well, that I am sure not one of them will reveal our stratagem.\x94

\x93And if we should not succeed,\x94 asked Maurice, gloomily, \x93what could I
do then?\x94

The question was so terrible that the priest dared not respond to it. He
and Maurice were silent during the remainder of the drive.

They reached the city at last, and Maurice saw how wise the abbe had
been in preventing him from assuming a disguise.

Armed with the most absolute power, the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis
de Courtornieu had closed all the gates of Montaignac save one.

Through this gate all who desired to leave or enter the city were
obliged to pass, and two officers were stationed there to examine
all comers and goers, to question them, and to take their name and
residence.

At the name \x93d\x92Escorval,\x94 the two officers evinced such surprise that
Maurice noticed it at once.

\x93Ah! you know what has become of my father!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93The Baron d\x92Escorval is a prisoner, Monsieur,\x94 replied one of the
officers.

Although Maurice had expected this response, he turned pale.

\x93Is he wounded?\x94 he asked, eagerly.

\x93He has not a scratch. But enter, sir, and pass on.\x94

From the anxious looks of these officers one might have supposed that
they feared they should compromise themselves by conversing with the son
of so great a criminal.

The carriage rolled beneath the gate-way; but it had not traversed two
hundred yards of the Grand Rue before the abbe and Maurice had remarked
several posters and notices affixed to the walls.

\x93We must see what this is,\x94 they said, in a breath.

They stopped near one of these notices, before which a reader had
already stationed himself; they descended from the carriage, and read
the following order:


\x93article I.--The inmates of the house in which the elder Lacheneur shall
be found will be handed over to a military commission for trial.

\x93article II.--Whoever shall deliver the body of the elder Lacheneur,
dead or alive, will receive a reward of twenty thousand francs.\x94


This was signed Duc de Sairmeuse.

\x93God be praised!\x94 exclaimed Maurice, \x93Marie-Anne\x92s father has escaped!
He had a good horse, and in two hours----\x94

A glance and a nudge of the elbow from the abbe checked him.

The abbe drew his attention to the man standing near them. This man was
none other than Chupin.

The old scoundrel had also recognized them, for he took off his hat to
the cure, and with an expression of intense covetousness in his eyes, he
said: \x93Twenty thousand francs! what a sum! A man could live comfortably
all his life on the interest of it.\x94

The abbe and Maurice shuddered as they re-entered their carriage.

\x93Lacheneur is lost if this man discovers his retreat,\x94 murmured the
priest.

\x93Fortunately, he must have crossed the frontier before this,\x94 replied
Maurice. \x93A hundred to one he is beyond reach.\x94

\x93And if you should be mistaken. What, if wounded and faint from loss of
blood, Lacheneur has had only strength to drag himself to the nearest
house and ask the hospitality of its inmates?\x94

\x93Oh! even in that case he is safe; I know our peasants. There is not one
who is capable of selling the life of a proscribed man.\x94

The noble enthusiasm of youth drew a sad smile from the priest.

\x93You forget the dangers to be incurred by those who shelter him. Many a
man who would not soil his hands with the price of blood might deliver
up a fugitive from fear.\x94

They were passing through the principal street, and they were struck
with the mournful aspect of the place--the little city which was
ordinarily so bustling and gay--fear and consternation evidently reigned
there. The shops were closed; the shutters of the houses had not been
opened. A lugubrious silence pervaded the town. One might have supposed
that there was general mourning, and that each family had lost one of
its members.

The manner of the few persons seen upon the thoroughfare was anxious and
singular. They hurried on, casting suspicious glances on every side.

Two or three who were acquaintances of the Baron d\x92Escorval averted
their heads, on seeing his carriage, to avoid the necessity of bowing.

The abbe and Maurice found an explanation of this evident terror on
reaching the hotel to which they had ordered the coachman to take them.

They had designated the Hotel de France, where the baron always stopped
when he visited Montaignac, and whose proprietor was none other than
Laugeron, that friend of Lacheneur, who had been the first to warn him
of the arrival of the Duc de Sairmeuse.

This worthy man, on hearing what guests had arrived, went to the
court-yard to meet them, with his white cap in his hand.

On such a day politeness was heroism. Was he connected with the
conspiracy? It has always been supposed so.

He invited Maurice and the abbe to take some refreshments in a way that
made them understand he was anxious to speak with them, and he
conducted them to a retired room where he knew they would be secure from
observation.

Thanks to one of the Duc de Sairmeuse\x92s valets de chambre who frequented
the house, the host knew as much as the authorities; he knew even more,
since he had also received information from the rebels who had escaped
capture.

From him the abbe and Maurice received their first positive information.

In the first place, nothing had been heard of Lacheneur, or of his son
Jean; thus far they had escaped the most rigorous pursuit.

In the second place, there were, at this moment, two hundred prisoners
in the citadel, and among them the Baron d\x92Escorval and Chanlouineau.

And lastly, since morning there had been at least sixty arrests in
Montaignac.

It was generally supposed that these arrests were the work of some
traitor, and all the inhabitants were trembling with fear.

But M. Laugeron knew the real cause. It had been confided to him under
pledge of secrecy by his guest, the duke\x92s _valet de chambre_.

\x93It is certainly an incredible story, gentlemen,\x94 he said;
\x93nevertheless, it is true. Two officers belonging to the Montaignac
militia, on returning from their expedition this morning at daybreak,
on passing the Croix d\x92Arcy, found a man, clad in the uniform of the
Emperor\x92s body-guard, lying dead in the fosse.\x94

Maurice shuddered.

The unfortunate man, he could not doubt, was the brave old soldier who
had spoken to Lacheneur.

\x93Naturally,\x94 pursued M. Laugeron, \x93the two officers examined the body of
the dead man. Between his lips they found a paper, which they opened and
read. It was a list of all the conspirators in the village. The brave
man, knowing he was mortally wounded, endeavored to destroy this fatal
list; but the agonies of death prevented him from swallowing it----\x94

But the abbe and Maurice had not time to listen to the commentaries with
which the hotel proprietor accompanied his recital.

They despatched a messenger to Mme. d\x92Escorval and to Marie-Anne,
in order to reassure them, and, without losing a moment, and fully
determined to brave all, they went to the house occupied by the Duc de
Sairmeuse.

A crowd had gathered about the door. At least a hundred persons were
standing there; men with anxious faces, women in tears, soliciting,
imploring an audience.

They were the friends and relatives of the unfortunate men who had been
arrested.

Two footmen, in gorgeous livery and pompous in bearing, had all they
could do to keep back the struggling throng.

The abbe, hoping that his priestly dress would win him a hearing,
approached and gave his name. But he was repulsed like the others.

\x93Monsieur le Duc is busy, and can receive no one,\x94 said the servant.
\x93Monsieur le Duc is preparing his report for His Majesty.\x94

And in support of this assertion, he pointed to the horses, standing
saddled in the court-yard, and the couriers who were to bear the
despatches.

The priest sadly rejoined his companions.

\x93We must wait!\x94 said he.

Intentionally or not, the servants were deceiving these poor people. The
duke, just then, was not troubling himself about despatches. A violent
altercation was going on between the Marquis de Courtornieu and himself.

Each of these noble personages aspired to the leading role--the one
which would be most generously rewarded, undoubtedly. It was a conflict
of ambitions and of wills.

It had begun by the exchange of a few recriminations, and it quickly
reached stinging words, bitter allusions, and at last, even threats.

The marquis declared it necessary to inflict the most frightful--he
said the most _salutary_ punishment upon the offender; the duke, on the
contrary, was inclined to be indulgent.

The marquis declared that since Lacheneur, the prime mover, and his
son, had both eluded pursuit, it was an urgent necessity to arrest
Marie-Anne.

The other declared that the arrest and imprisonment of this young girl
would be impolitic, that such a course would render the authorities
odious, and the rebels more zealous.

As each was firmly wedded to his own opinion, the discussion was heated,
but they failed to convince each other.

\x93These rebels must be put down with a strong hand!\x94 urged M. de
Courtornieu.

\x93I do not wish to exasperate the populace,\x94 replied the duke.

\x93Bah! what does public sentiment matter?\x94

\x93It matters a great deal when you cannot depend upon your soldiers. Do
you know what happened last night? There was powder enough burned to win
a battle; there were only fifteen peasants wounded. Our men fired in the
air. You forget that the Montaignac militia is composed, for the most
part, at least of men who formerly fought under Bonaparte, and who are
burning to turn their weapons against us.\x94

But neither the one nor the other dared to tell the real cause of his
obstinacy.

Mlle. Blanche had been at Montaignac that morning. She had confided her
anxiety and her sufferings to her father; and she made him swear that he
would profit by this opportunity to rid her of Marie-Anne.

On his side, the duke, persuaded that Marie-Anne was his son\x92s mistress,
wished, at any cost, to prevent her appearance before the tribunal. At
last the marquis yielded.

The duke had said to him: \x93Very well! let us end this dispute,\x94 at the
same time glancing so meaningly at a pair of pistols that the worthy
marquis felt a disagreeable chilliness creep up his spine.

They then went together to examine the prisoners, preceded by a
detachment of soldiery who drove back the crowd, which gathered again to
await the duke\x92s return. So all day Maurice watched the aerial
telegraph established upon the citadel, and whose black arms were moving
incessantly.

\x93What orders are travelling through space?\x94 he said to the abbe; \x93is it
life or is it death?\x94



CHAPTER XXVI

\x93Above all, make haste!\x94 Maurice had said to the messenger charged with
bearing a letter to the baroness.

Nevertheless, the man did not reach Escorval until nightfall.

Beset by a thousand fears, he had taken the unfrequented roads and had
made long circuits to avoid all the people he saw approaching in the
distance.

Mme. d\x92Escorval tore the letter rather than took it from his hands. She
opened it, read it aloud to Marie-Anne, and merely said:

\x93Let us go--at once.\x94

But this was easier said than done.

They kept but three horses at Escorval. One was nearly dead from
its terrible journey of the previous night; the other two were in
Montaignac.

What were the ladies to do? To trust to the kindness of their neighbors
was the only resource open to them.

But these neighbors having heard of the baron\x92s arrest, firmly refused
to lend their horses. They believed they would gravely compromise
themselves by rendering any service to the wife of a man upon whom the
burden of the most terrible of accusations was resting.

Mme. d\x92Escorval and Marie-Anne were talking of pursuing their journey
on foot, when Corporal Bavois, enraged at such cowardice, swore by the
sacred name of thunder that this should not be.

\x93One moment!\x94 said he. \x93I will arrange the matter.\x94

He went away, but reappeared about a quarter of an hour afterward,
leading an old plough-horse by the mane. This clumsy and heavy steed he
harnessed into the cabriolet as best he could.

But even this did not satisfy the old trooper\x92s complaisance.

His duties at the chateau were over, as M. d\x92Escorval had been arrested,
and nothing remained for Corporal Bavois but to rejoin his regiment.

He declared that he would not allow these ladies to travel at night, and
unattended, on the road where they might be exposed to many disagreeable
encounters, and that he, in company with two grenadiers, would escort
them to their journey\x92s end.

\x93And it will go hard with soldier or civilian who ventures to molest
them, will it not, comrades?\x94 he exclaimed.

As usual, the two men assented with an oath.

So, as they pursued their journey, Mme. d\x92Escorval and Marie-Anne saw
the three men preceding or following the carriage, or oftener walking
beside it.

Not until they reached the gates of Montaignac did the old soldier
forsake his _protegees_, and then, not without bidding them a respectful
farewell, in the name of his companions as well as himself; not without
telling them, if they had need of him, to call upon Bavois, corporal of
grenadiers, company first, stationed at the citadel.

The clocks were striking ten when Mme. d\x92Escorval and Marie-Anne
alighted at the Hotel de France.

They found Maurice in despair, and even the abbe disheartened. Since
Maurice had written to them, events had progressed with fearful
rapidity.

They knew now the orders which had been forwarded by signals from the
citadel. These orders had been printed and affixed to the walls. The
signals had said:


\x93Montaignac must be regarded as in a state of siege. The military
authorities have been granted discretionary power. A military commission
will exercise jurisdiction instead of, and in place of, the courts. Let
peaceable citizens take courage; let the evil-disposed tremble! As for
the rabble, the sword of the law is about to strike!\x94


Only six lines in all--but each word was a menace.

That which filled the abbe\x92s heart with dismay was the substitution of a
military commission for a court-martial.

This upset all his plans, made all his precautions useless, and
destroyed his hopes of saving his friend.

A court-martial was, of course, hasty and often unjust in its decisions;
but still, it observed some of the forms of procedure practised in
judicial tribunals. It still preserved something of the solemnity of
legal justice, which desires to be enlightened before it condemns.

A military commission would infallibly neglect all legal forms; and
summarily condemn and punish the accused parties, as in time of war a
spy is tried and punished.

\x93What!\x94 exclaimed Maurice, \x93they dare to condemn without investigating,
without listening to testimony, without allowing the accused time to
prepare any defence?\x94

The abbe was silent. This exceeded his most sinister apprehensions. Now,
he believed anything possible.

Maurice spoke of an investigation. It had commenced that day, and it was
still going on by the light of the jailer\x92s lantern.

That is to say, the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu were
passing the prisoners in review.

They numbered three hundred, and the duke and his companion had
decided to summon before the commission thirty of the most dangerous
conspirators.

How were they to select them? By what method could they discover the
extent of each prisoner\x92s guilt? It would have been difficult for them
to explain.

They went from one to another, asking any question that entered their
minds, and after the terrified man replied, according as they thought
his countenance good or bad, they said to the jailer who accompanied
them: \x93Keep this one until another time,\x94 or, \x93This one for to-morrow.\x94

By daylight, they had thirty names upon their list: and the names of the
Baron d\x92Escorval and Chanlouineau led all the rest.

Although the unhappy party at the Hotel de France could not suspect this
fact, they suffered an agony of fear and dread through the long night
which seemed to them eternal.

As soon as day broke, they heard the beating of the _reveille_ at the
citadel; the hour when they might commence their efforts anew had come.

The abbe announced that he was going alone to the duke\x92s house, and that
he would find a way to force an entrance.

He had bathed his red and swollen eyes in fresh water, and was prepared
to start on his expedition, when someone rapped cautiously at the door
of the chamber.

Maurice cried: \x93Come in,\x94 and M. Laugeron instantly entered the room.

His face announced some dreadful misfortune; and the worthy man was
really terrified. He had just learned that the military commission had
been organized.

In contempt of all human laws and the commonest rules of justice, the
presidency of this tribunal of vengeance and of hatred had been bestowed
upon the Duc de Sairmeuse.

And he had accepted it--he who was at the same time to play the part of
participant, witness, and judge.

The other members of the commission were military men.

\x93And when does the commission enter upon its functions?\x94 inquired the
abbe.

\x93To-day,\x94 replied the host, hesitatingly; \x93this morning--in an
hour--perhaps sooner!\x94

The abbe understood what M. Laugeron meant, but dared not say: \x93The
commission is assembling, make haste.\x94

\x93Come!\x94 he said to Maurice, \x93I wish to be present when your father is
examined.\x94

Ah! what would not the baroness have given to follow the priest and her
son? But she could not; she understood this, and submitted.

They set out, and as they stepped into the street they saw a soldier a
little way from them, who made a friendly gesture.

They recognized Corporal Bavois, and paused.

But he, passing them with an air of the utmost indifference, and
apparently without observing them, hastily dropped these words:

\x93I have seen Chanlouineau. Be of good cheer; he promises to save
Monsieur d\x92Escorval!\x94



CHAPTER XXVII

In the citadel of Montaignac, within the second line of fortifications,
stands an old building known as the chapel.

Originally consecrated to worship, the structure had, at the time of
which we write, fallen into disuse. It was so damp that it would not
even serve as an arsenal for an artillery regiment, for the guns rusted
there more quickly than in the open air. A black mould covered the walls
to a height of six or seven feet.

This was the place selected by the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de
Courtornieu for the assembling of the military commission.

On first entering it, Maurice and the abbe felt a cold chill strike
to their very hearts; and an indefinable anxiety paralyzed all their
faculties.

But the commission had not yet commenced its _seance_; and they had time
to look about them.

The arrangements which had been made in transforming this gloomy hall
into a tribunal, attested the precipitancy of the judges and their
determination to finish their work promptly and mercilessly.

The arrangements denoted an absence of all form; and one could divine at
once the frightful certainty of the result.

Three large tables taken from the mess-room, and covered with
horse-blankets instead of tapestry, stood upon the platform. Some
unpainted wooden chairs awaited the judges; but in the centre glittered
the president\x92s chair, a superbly carved and gilded fauteuil, sent by
the Duc de Sairmeuse.

Several wooden benches had been provided for the prisoners.

Ropes stretched from one wall to the other divided the chapel into two
parts. It was a precaution against the public.

A superfluous precaution, alas!

The abbe and Maurice had expected to find the crowd too great for the
hall, large as it was, and they found the chapel almost unoccupied.

There were not twenty persons in the building. Standing back in the
shadow of the wall were perhaps a dozen men, pale and gloomy, a sullen
fire smouldering in their eyes, their teeth tightly clinched. They were
army officers retired on half pay. Three men, attired in black, were
conversing in low tones near the door. In a corner stood several
country-women with their aprons over their faces. They were weeping
bitterly, and their sobs alone broke the silence. They were the mothers,
wives, or daughters of the accused men.

Nine o\x92clock sounded. The rolling of the drum made the panes of the
only window tremble. A loud voice outside shouted, \x93Present arms!\x94 The
military commission entered, followed by the Marquis de Courtornieu and
several civil functionaries.

The duke was in full uniform, his face a little more crimson, and his
air a trifle more haughty than usual.

\x93The session is open!\x94 pronounced the Duc de Sairmeuse, the president.

Then, in a rough voice, he added:

\x93Bring in the culprits.\x94

He had not even the grace to say \x93the accused.\x94

They came in, one by one, to the number of twenty, and took their places
on the benches at the foot of the platform.

Chanlouineau held his head proudly erect, and looked composedly about
him.

Baron d\x92Escorval was calm and grave; but not more so than when, in days
gone by, he had been called upon to express his opinion in the councils
of the Empire.

Both saw Maurice, who was so overcome that he had to lean upon the abbe
for support. But while the baron greeted his son with a simple bend of
the head, Chanlouineau made a gesture that clearly signified:

\x93Have confidence in me--fear nothing.\x94

The attitude of the other prisoners betrayed surprise rather than fear.
Perhaps they were unconscious of the peril they had braved, and the
extent of the danger that now threatened them.

When the prisoners had taken their places, the chief counsel for the
prosecution rose.

His presentation of the case was characterized by intense violence, but
lasted only five minutes. He briefly narrated the facts, exalted the
merits of the government, of the Restoration, and concluded by a demand
that sentence of death should be pronounced upon the culprits.

When he ceased speaking, the duke, addressing the first prisoner upon
the bench, said, rudely:

\x93Stand up.\x94

The prisoner rose.

\x93Your name and age?\x94

\x93Eugene Michel Chanlouineau, aged twenty-nine, farmer by occupation.\x94

\x93An owner of national lands, probably?\x94

\x93The owner of lands which, having been paid for with good money and made
fertile by labor, are rightfully mine.\x94

The duke did not wish to waste time on discussion.

\x93You have taken part in this rebellion?\x94 he pursued.

\x93Yes.\x94

\x93You are right in avowing it, for witnesses will be introduced who will
prove this fact conclusively.\x94

Five grenadiers entered; they were the men whom Chanlouineau had held at
bay while Maurice, the abbe, and Marie-Anne were entering the carriage.

These soldiers declared upon oath that they recognized the accused; and
one of them even went so far as to pronounce a glowing eulogium upon
him, declaring him to be a solid fellow, of remarkable courage.

Chanlouineau\x92s eyes during this deposition betrayed an agony of anxiety.
Would the soldiers allude to this circumstance of the carriage? No; they
did not allude to it.

\x93That is sufficient,\x94 interrupted the president.

Then turning to Chanlouineau:

\x93What were your motives?\x94 he inquired.

\x93We hoped to free ourselves from a government imposed upon us by
foreigners; to free ourselves from the insolence of the nobility, and to
retain the lands that were justly ours.\x94

\x93Enough! You were one of the leaders of the revolt?\x94

\x93One of the leaders--yes.\x94

\x93Who were the others?\x94

A faint smile flitted over the lips of the young farmer, as he replied:

\x93The others were Monsieur Lacheneur, his son Jean, and the Marquis de
Sairmeuse.\x94

The duke bounded from his gilded arm-chair.

\x93Wretch!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93rascal! vile scoundrel!\x94

He caught up a heavy inkstand that stood upon the table before him: and
one would have supposed that he was about to hurl it at the prisoner\x92s
head.

Chanlouineau stood perfectly unmoved in the midst of the assembly, which
was excited to the highest pitch by his startling declaration.

\x93You questioned me,\x94 he resumed, \x93and I replied. You may gag me if my
responses do not please you. If there were witnesses _for_ me as there
are against me, I could prove the truth of my words. As it is, all the
prisoners here will tell you that I am speaking the truth. Is it not so,
you others?\x94

With the exception of Baron d\x92Escorval, there was not one prisoner
who was capable of understanding the real bearing of these audacious
allegations; but all, nevertheless, nodded their assent.

\x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse was so truly our leader,\x94 exclaimed the daring
peasant, \x93that he was wounded by a sabre-thrust while fighting by my
side.\x94

The face of the duke was more purple than that of a man struck with
apoplexy; and his fury almost deprived him of the power of speech.

\x93You lie, scoundrel! you lie!\x94 he gasped.

\x93Send for the marquis,\x94 said Chanlouineau, tranquilly, \x93and see whether
or not he is wounded.\x94

A refusal on the part of the duke could not fail to arouse suspicion.
But what could he do? Martial had concealed his wound the day before; it
was now impossible to confess that he had been wounded.

Fortunately for the duke, one of the judges relieved him of his
embarrassment.

\x93I hope, Monsieur, that you will not give this arrogant rebel the
satisfaction he desires. The commission opposes his demand.\x94

Chanlouineau laughed loudly.

\x93Very naturally,\x94 he exclaimed. \x93To-morrow my head will be off, and
you think nothing will then remain to prove what I say. I have another
proof, fortunately--material and indestructible proof--which it is
beyond your power to destroy, and which will speak when my body is six
feet under ground.\x94

\x93What is the proof?\x94 demanded another judge, upon whom the duke looked
askance.

The prisoner shook his head.

\x93I will give it to you when you offer me my life in exchange for it,\x94
 he replied. \x93It is now in the hands of a trusty person, who knows its
value. It will go to the King if necessary. We would like to
understand the part which the Marquis de Sairmeuse has played in
this affair--whether he was truly with us, or whether he was only an
instigating agent.\x94

A tribunal regardful of the immutable rules of justice, or even of its
own honor, would, by virtue of its discretionary powers, have instantly
demanded the presence of the Marquis de Sairmeuse.

But the military commission considered such a course quite beneath its
dignity.

These men arrayed in gorgeous uniforms were not judges charged with the
vindication of a cruel law, but still a law--they were the instruments,
commissioned by the conquerors, to strike the vanquished in the name of
that savage code which may be summed up in two words: \x93_vae victis_.\x94

The president, the noble Duc de Sairmeuse, would not have consented to
summon Martial on any consideration. Nor did his associate judges wish
him to do so.

Had Chanlouineau foreseen this? Probably. Yet, why had he ventured so
hazardous a blow?

The tribunal, after a short deliberation, decided that it would not
admit this testimony which had so excited the audience, and stupefied
Maurice and Abbe Midon.

The examination was continued, therefore, with increased bitterness.

\x93Instead of designating imaginary leaders,\x94 resumed the duke, \x93you would
do well to name the real instigator of this revolt--not Lacheneur,
but an individual seated upon the other end of the bench, the elder
d\x92Escorval----\x94

\x93Monsieur le Baron d\x92Escorval was entirely ignorant of the conspiracy, I
swear it by all that I hold most sacred----\x94

\x93Hold your tongue!\x94 interrupted the counsel for the prosecution.
\x93Instead of wearying the patience of the commission by such ridiculous
stories, try to merit its indulgence.\x94

Chanlouineau\x92s glance and gesture expressed such disdain that the man
who interrupted him was abashed.

\x93I wish no indulgence,\x94 he said. \x93I have played, I have lost; here is
my head. But if you were not more cruel than wild beasts you would take
pity on the poor wretches who surround me. I see at least ten among them
who were not our accomplices, and who certainly did not take up arms.
Even the others did not know what they were doing. No, they did not!\x94

Having spoken, he resumed his seat, proud, indifferent, and apparently
oblivious to the murmur which ran through the audience, the soldiers of
the guard and even to the platform, at the sound of his vibrant voice.

The despair of the poor peasant women had been reawakened, and their
sobs and moans filled the immense hall.

The retired officers had grown even more pale and gloomy; and tears
streamed down the wrinkled cheeks of several.

\x93That one is a man!\x94 they were thinking.

The abbe leaned over and whispered in the ear of Maurice:

\x93Evidently Chanlouineau has some plan. He intends to save your father.
How, I cannot understand.\x94

The judges were conversing in low tones with considerable animation.

A difficulty had presented itself.

The prisoners, ignorant of the charges which would be brought against
them, and not expecting instant trial, had not thought of procuring a
defender.

And this circumstance, bitter mockery! frightened this iniquitous
tribunal, which did not fear to trample beneath its feet the most sacred
rules of justice.

The judges had decided; their verdict was, as it were, rendered in
advance, and yet they wished to hear a voice raised in defence of those
who were already doomed.

It chanced that three lawyers, retained by the friends of several of the
prisoners, were in the hall.

They were the three men that Maurice, on his entrance, had noticed
conversing near the door of the chapel.

The duke was informed of this fact. He turned to them, and motioned them
to approach; then, pointing to Chanlouineau:

\x93Will you undertake this culprit\x92s defence?\x94 he demanded.

For a moment the lawyers made no response. This monstrous _seance_ had
aroused a storm of indignation and disgust within their breasts, and
they looked questioningly at each other.

\x93We are all disposed to undertake the prisoner\x92s defence,\x94 at last
replied the eldest of the three; \x93but we see him for the first time;
we are ignorant of his grounds of defence. We must ask a delay; it is
indispensable, in order to confer with him.\x94

\x93The court can grant you no delay,\x94 interrupted M. de Sairmeuse; \x93will
you accept the defence, yes or no?\x94

The advocate hesitated, not that he was afraid, for he was a brave man:
but he was endeavoring to find some argument strong enough to trouble
the conscience of these judges.

\x93I will speak in his behalf,\x94 said the advocate, at last, \x93but not
without first protesting with all my strength against these unheard-of
modes of procedure.\x94

\x93Oh! spare us your homilies, and be brief.\x94

After Chanlouineau\x92s examination, it was difficult to improvise there,
on the spur of the moment, a plea in his behalf. Still, his courageous
advocate, in his indignation, presented a score of arguments which would
have made any other tribunal reflect.

But all the while he was speaking the Duc de Sairmeuse fidgeted in his
gilded arm-chair with every sign of angry impatience.

\x93The plea was very long,\x94 he remarked, when the lawyer had concluded,
\x93terribly long. We shall never get through with this business if each
prisoner takes up as much time!\x94

He turned to his colleagues as if to consult them, but suddenly changing
his mind he proposed to the prosecuting counsel that he should unite
all the cases, try all the culprits in a body, with the exception of the
elder d\x92Escorval.

\x93This will shorten our task, for, in case we adopt this course, there
will be but two judgments to be pronounced,\x94 he said. \x93This will not, of
course, prevent each individual from defending himself.\x94

The lawyers protested against this. A judgment in a lump, like that
suggested by the duke, would destroy all hope of saving a single one of
these unfortunate men from the guillotine.

\x93How can we defend them,\x94 the lawyers pleaded, \x93when we know nothing of
the situation of each of the prisoners? we do not even know their names.
We shall be obliged to designate them by the cut of their coats and by
the color of their hair.\x94

They implored the tribunal to grant them a week for preparation,
four days, even twenty-four hours. Futile efforts! The president\x92s
proposition was adopted.

Consequently, each prisoner was called to the desk according to the
place which he occupied upon the benches. Each man gave his name, his
age, his abode, and his profession, and received an order to return to
his place.

Six or seven prisoners were actually granted time to say that they were
absolutely ignorant of the conspiracy, and that they had been arrested
while conversing quietly upon the public highway. They begged to be
allowed to furnish proof of the truth of their assertions; they invoked
the testimony of the soldiers who had arrested them.

M. d\x92Escorval, whose case had been separated from the others, was not
summoned to the desk. He would be interrogated last.

\x93Now the counsel for the defence will be heard,\x94 said the duke; \x93but
make haste; lose no time! It is already twelve o\x92clock.\x94

Then began a shameful, revolting, and unheard-of scene. The duke
interrupted the lawyers every other moment, bidding them be silent,
questioning them, or jeering at them.

\x93It seems incredible,\x94 said he, \x93that anyone can think of defending such
wretches!\x94

Or again:

\x93Silence! You should blush with shame for having constituted yourself
the defender of such rascals!\x94

But the lawyers persevered even while they realized the utter
uselessness of their efforts. But what could they do under such
circumstances? The defence of these twenty-nine prisoners lasted only
one hour and a half.

Before the last word was fairly uttered, the Duc de Sairmeuse gave a
sigh of relief, and in a tone which betrayed his delight, said:

\x93Prisoner Escorval, stand up.\x94

Thus called upon, the baron rose, calm and dignified. Terrible as his
sufferings must have been, there was no trace of it upon his noble face.

He had even repressed the smile of disdain which the duke\x92s paltry
affection in not giving him the title which belonged to him, brought to
his lips.

But Chanlouineau sprang up at the same time, trembling with indignation,
his face all aglow with anger.

\x93Remain seated,\x94 ordered the duke, \x93or you shall be removed from the
court-room.\x94

Chanlouineau, nevertheless, declared that he would speak; that he had
some remarks to add to the plea made by the defending counsel.

Upon a sign from the duke, two gendarmes approached and placed their
hands upon his shoulders. He allowed them to force him back into his
seat though he could easily have crushed them with one pressure of his
brawny arm.

An observer would have supposed that he was furious; secretly, he was
delighted. The aim he had had in view was now attained. In the glance he
cast upon the abbe, the latter could read:

\x93Whatever happens, watch over Maurice; restrain him. Do not allow him to
defeat my plans by any outbreak.\x94

This caution was not unnecessary. Maurice was terribly agitated; he
could not see, he felt that he was suffocating, that he was losing his
reason.

\x93Where is the self-control you promised me?\x94 murmured the priest.

But no one observed the young man\x92s condition. The attention was rapt,
breathless. So profound was the silence that the measured tread of the
sentinels without could be distinctly heard.

Each person present felt that the decisive moment for which the tribunal
had reserved all its attention and efforts had come.

To convict and condemn the poor peasants, of whom no one would think
twice, was a mere trifle. But to bring low an illustrious man who had
been the counsellor and faithful friend of the Emperor! What glory, and
what an opportunity for the ambitious!

The instinct of the audience spoke the truth. If the tribunal had acted
informally in the case of the obscure conspirators, it had carefully
prepared its suit against the baron.

Thanks to the activity of the Marquis de Courtornieu, the prosecution
had found seven charges against the baron, the least grave of which was
punishable by death.

\x93Which of you,\x94 demanded M. de Sairmeuse, \x93will consent to defend this
great culprit?\x94

\x93I!\x94 exclaimed three advocates, in a breath.

\x93Take care,\x94 said the duke, with a malicious smile; \x93the task is not
light.\x94

\x93Not light!\x94 It would have been better to say dangerous. It would have
been better to say that the defender risked his career, his peace, and
his liberty; very probably, his life.

\x93Our profession has its exigencies,\x94 nobly replied the oldest of the
advocates.

And the three courageously took their places beside the baron, thus
avenging the honor of their robe which had just been miserably sullied,
in a city where, among more than a hundred thousand souls, two pure and
innocent victims of a furious reaction had not--oh, shame!--been able to
find a defender.

\x93Prisoner,\x94 resumed M. de Sairmeuse, \x93state your name and profession.\x94

\x93Louis Guillaume, Baron d\x92Escorval, Commander of the Order of the Legion
of Honor, formerly Councillor of State under the Empire.\x94

\x93So you avow these shameful services? You confess----\x94

\x93Pardon, Monsieur; I am proud of having had the honor of serving my
country, and of being useful to her in proportion to my ability----\x94

With a furious gesture the duke interrupted him.

\x93That is excellent!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93These gentlemen, the commissioners,
will appreciate that. It was, undoubtedly, in the hope of regaining your
former position that you entered into a conspiracy against a magnanimous
prince with these vile wretches!\x94

\x93These peasants are not vile wretches, but misguided men, Monsieur.
Moreover, you know--yes, you know as well as I do myself--that I have
had no hand in this conspiracy.\x94

\x93You were arrested in the ranks of the conspirators with weapons in your
hands!\x94

\x93I was unarmed, Monsieur, as you are well aware; and if I was among
the peasantry, it was only because I hoped to induce them to relinquish
their senseless enterprise.\x94

\x93You lie!\x94

The baron paled beneath the insult, but he made no reply.

There was, however, one man in the assemblage who could no longer endure
this horrible and abominable injustice, and this man was Abbe Midon,
who, only a moment before, had advised Maurice to be calm.

He brusquely quitted his place, and advanced to the foot of the
platform.

\x93The Baron d\x92Escorval speaks the truth,\x94 he cried, in a ringing voice;
\x93the three hundred prisoners in the citadel will swear to it; these
prisoners here would say the same if they stood upon the guillotine; and
I, who accompanied him, who walked beside him, I, a priest, swear before
the God who will judge all men, Monsieur de Sairmeuse, I swear that all
which it was in human power to do to arrest this movement we have done!\x94

The duke listened with an ironical smile.

\x93They did not deceive me, then, when they told me that this army of
rebels had a chaplain! Ah! Monsieur, you should sink to the earth with
shame. You, a priest, mingle with such scoundrels as these--with these
enemies of our good King and of our holy religion! Do not deny this!
Your haggard features, your swollen eyes, your disordered attire soiled
with dust and mud betray your guilt. Must I, a soldier, remind you of
what is due your sacred calling? Hold your peace, Monsieur, and depart!\x94

The counsel for the prisoner sprang up.

\x93We demand,\x94 they cried, \x93that this witness be heard. He must be heard!
Military commissions are not above the laws that regulate ordinary
tribunals.\x94

\x93If I do not speak the truth,\x94 resumed the abbe, \x93I am a perjured
witness, worse yet, an accomplice. It is your duty, in that case, to
have me arrested.\x94

The duke\x92s face expressed a hypocritical compassion.

\x93No, Monsieur le Cure,\x94 said he, \x93I shall not arrest you. I would avert
the scandal which you are trying to cause. We will show your priestly
garb the respect the wearer does not deserve. Again, and for the last
time, retire, or I shall be obliged to employ force.\x94

What would further resistance avail? Nothing. The abbe, with a face
whiter than the plastered walls, and eyes filled with tears, came back
to his place beside Maurice.

The lawyers, meanwhile, were uttering their protests with increasing
energy. But the duke, by a prolonged hammering upon the table with his
fists, at last succeeded in reducing them to silence.

\x93Ah! you wish testimony!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Very well, you shall have it.
Soldiers, bring in the first witness.\x94

A movement among the guards, and almost immediately Chupin appeared.
He advanced deliberately, but his countenance betrayed him. A close
observer could have read his anxiety and his terror in his eyes, which
wandered restlessly about the room.

And there was a very appreciable terror in his voice when, with hand
uplifted, he swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth.

\x93What do you know regarding the prisoner d\x92Escorval?\x94 demanded the duke.

\x93I know that he took part in the rebellion on the night of the fourth.\x94

\x93Are you sure of this?\x94

\x93I can furnish proofs.\x94

\x93Submit them to the consideration of the commission.\x94

The old scoundrel began to gain more confidence.

\x93First,\x94 he replied, \x93it was to the house of Monsieur d\x92Escorval that
Lacheneur hastened after he had, much against his will, restored to
Monsieur le Duc the chateau of Monsieur le Duc\x92s ancestors. Monsieur
Lacheneur met Chanlouineau there, and from that day dates the plot of
this insurrection.\x94

\x93I was Lacheneur\x92s friend,\x94 said the baron; \x93it was perfectly natural
that he should come to me for consolation after a great misfortune.\x94

M. de Sairmeuse turned to his colleague.

\x93You hear that!\x94 said he. \x93This d\x92Escorval calls the restitution of a
deposit a great misfortune! Go on, witness.\x94

\x93In the second place,\x94 resumed Chupin, \x93the accused was always prowling
about Lacheneur\x92s house.\x94

\x93That is false,\x94 interrupted the baron. \x93I never visited the house but
once, and on that occasion I implored him to renounce.\x94

He paused, comprehending only when it was too late, the terrible
significance of his words. But having begun, he would not retract, and
he added:

\x93I implored him to renounce this project of an insurrection.\x94

\x93Ah! then you knew his wicked intentions?\x94

\x93I suspected them.\x94

\x93Not to reveal a conspiracy makes one an accomplice, and means the
guillotine.\x94

Baron d\x92Escorval had just signed his death-warrant.

Strange caprice of destiny! He was innocent, and yet he was the only one
among the accused whom a regular tribunal could have legally condemned.

Maurice and the abbe were prostrated with grief; but Chanlouineau, who
turned toward them, had still upon his lips a smile of confidence.

How could he hope when all hope seemed absolutely lost?

But the commissioners made no attempt to conceal their satisfaction. M.
de Sairmeuse, especially, evinced an indecent joy.

\x93Ah, well! Messieurs?\x94 he said to the lawyers, in a sneering tone.

The counsel for the defence poorly dissimulated their discouragement;
but they nevertheless endeavored to question the validity of such a
declaration on the part of their client. He had said that he _suspected_
the conspiracy, not that he _knew_ it. It was quite a different thing.

\x93Say at once that you wish still more overwhelming evidence,\x94
 interrupted the duke. \x93Very well! You shall have it. Continue your
deposition, witness.\x94

\x93The accused,\x94 continued Chupin, \x93was present at all the conferences
held at Lacheneur\x92s house. The proof of this is as clear as daylight.
Being obliged to cross the Oiselle to reach the Reche, and fearing the
ferryman would notice his frequent nocturnal voyages, the baron had an
old boat repaired which he had not used for years.\x94

\x93Ah! that is a remarkable circumstance, prisoner; do you recollect
having your boat repaired?\x94

\x93Yes; but not for the purpose which this man mentions.\x94

\x93For what purpose, then?\x94

The baron made no response. Was it not in compliance with the request of
Maurice that the boat had been put in order?

\x93And finally,\x94 continued Chupin, \x93when Lacheneur set fire to his house
to give the signal for the insurrection, the prisoner was with him.\x94

\x93That,\x94 exclaimed the duke, \x93is conclusive evidence.\x94

\x93I was, indeed, at the Reche,\x94 interrupted the baron; \x93but it was, as
I have already told you, with the firm determination of preventing this
outbreak.\x94

M. de Sairmeuse gave utterance to a little disdainful laugh.

\x93Ah, gentlemen!\x94 he said, addressing the commissioners, \x93can you not
see that the prisoner\x92s courage does not equal his depravity? But I will
confound him. What did you do, prisoner, when the insurgents left the
Reche?\x94

\x93I returned to my home with all possible haste, took a horse and
repaired to the Croix d\x92Arcy.\x94

\x93Then you knew that this was the spot appointed for the general
rendezvous?\x94

\x93Lacheneur had just informed me.\x94

\x93If I believed your story, I should tell you that it was your duty to
have hastened to Montaignac and informed the authorities. But what you
say is untrue. You did not leave Lacheneur, you accompanied him.\x94

\x93No, Monsieur, no!\x94

\x93And what if I could prove this fact beyond all question?\x94

\x93Impossible, Monsieur, since such was not the case.\x94

By the malicious satisfaction that lighted M. de Sairmeuse\x92s face, the
abbe knew that this wicked judge had some terrible weapon in his hands,
and that Baron d\x92Escorval was about to be overwhelmed by one of those
fatal coincidences which explain, although they do not justify, judicial
errors.

At a sign from the counsel for the prosecution, the Marquis de
Courtornieu left his seat and came forward to the platform.

\x93I must request you, Monsieur le Marquis,\x94 said the duke, \x93to have the
goodness to read to the commission the deposition written and signed by
your daughter.\x94

This scene must have been prepared in advance for the audience. M. de
Courtornieu cleaned his glasses, drew from his pocket a paper which he
unfolded, and amid a death-like silence, he read:

\x93I, Blanche de Courtornieu, do declare upon oath that, on the evening
of the fourth of February, between ten and eleven o\x92clock, on the public
road leading from Sairmeuse to Montaignac, I was assailed by a crowd of
armed brigands. While they were deliberating as to whether they should
take possession of my person and pillage my carriage, I overheard one
of these men say to another, speaking of me: \x91She must get out, must she
not, Monsieur d\x92Escorval?\x92 I believe that the brigand who uttered these
words was a peasant named Chanlouineau, but I dare not assert it on
oath.\x94

A terrible cry, followed by inarticulate moans, interrupted the marquis.

The suffering which Maurice endured was too great for his strength and
his reason. He was about to spring forward and cry:

\x93It was I who addressed those words to Chanlouineau. I alone am guilty;
my father is innocent!\x94

But fortunately the abbe had the presence of mind to hold him back, and
place his hand over the poor youth\x92s lips.

But the priest would not have been able to restrain Maurice without the
aid of the retired army officers, who were standing beside him.

Divining all, perhaps, they surrounded Maurice, took him up, and carried
him from the room by main force, in spite of his violent resistance.

All this occupied scarcely ten seconds.

\x93What is the cause of this disturbance?\x94 inquired the duke, looking
angrily over the audience.

No one uttered a word.

\x93At the least noise the hall shall be cleared,\x94 added M. de Sairmeuse.
\x93And you, prisoner, what have you to say in self-justification, after
this crushing accusation by Mademoiselle de Courtornieu?\x94

\x93Nothing,\x94 murmured the baron.

\x93So you confess your guilt?\x94

Once outside, the abbe confided Maurice to the care of three officers,
who promised to go with him, to carry him by main force, if need be, to
the hotel, and keep him there.

Relieved on this score, the priest re-entered the hall just in time to
see the baron seat himself without making any response, thus indicating
that he had relinquished all intention of defending his life.

Really, what could he say? How could he defend himself without betraying
his son?

Until now there had not been one person who did not believe in the
baron\x92s entire innocence. Could it be that he was guilty? His silence
must be accepted as a confession of guilt; at least, some present
believed so.

Baron d\x92Escorval appeared to be guilty. Was that not a sufficiently
great victory for the Duc de Sairmeuse?

He turned to the lawyers, and with an air of weariness and disdain he
said:

\x93Now speak, since it is absolutely necessary; but no long phrases! We
should have finished here an hour ago.\x94

The oldest lawyer rose, trembling with indignation, ready to dare
anything for the sake of giving free utterance to his thought, but the
baron checked him.

\x93Do not try to defend me,\x94 he said, calmly; \x93it would be labor wasted.
I have only a word to say to my judges. Let them remember what the noble
and generous Marshal Moncey wrote to the King: \x91The scaffold does not
make friends.\x92\x94

This recollection was not of a nature to soften the hearts of the
judges. The marshal, for that saying, had been deprived of his office,
and condemned to three months\x92 imprisonment.

As the advocates made no further attempt to argue the case, the
commission retired to deliberate. This gave M. d\x92Escorval an opportunity
to speak with his defenders. He shook them warmly by the hand, and
thanked them for their devotion and for their courage.

The good man wept.

Then the baron, turning to the oldest among them, quickly and in a low
voice said:

\x93I have a last favor to ask of you. When the sentence of death shall
have been pronounced upon me, go at once to my son. You will say to him
that his dying father commands him to live; he will understand you. Tell
him it is my last wish; that he live--live for his mother!\x94

He said no more; the judges were returning.

Of the thirty prisoners, nine were declared not guilty, and released.

The remaining twenty-one, and M. d\x92Escorval and Chanlouineau were among
the number, were condemned to death.

But the smile had not once forsaken Chanlouineau\x92s lips.



CHAPTER XXVIII

The abbe had been right in feeling he could trust the officers to whose
care he had confided Maurice.

Finding their entreaties would not induce him to leave the citadel, they
seized him and literally carried him away. He made the most desperate
efforts to escape; each step was a struggle.

\x93Leave me!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93let me go where duty calls me. You only
dishonor me in pretending to save me.\x94

His agony was terrible. He had thrown himself headlong into this absurd
undertaking, and now the responsibility of his acts had fallen upon
his father. He, the culprit, would live, and his innocent father would
perish on the guillotine. It was to this his love for Marie-Anne had led
him, that radiant love which in other days had smiled so joyously.

But our capacity for suffering has its limits.

When they had carried him to the room in the hotel where his mother and
Marie-Anne were waiting in agonized surprise, that irresistible torpor
which follows suffering too intense for human endurance, crept over him.

\x93Nothing is decided yet,\x94 the officers answered in response to Mme.
d\x92Escorval\x92s questions. \x93The cure will hasten here as soon as the
verdict is rendered.\x94

Then, as they had promised not to lose sight of Maurice, they seated
themselves in gloomy silence.

The house was silent. One might have supposed the hotel deserted. At
last, a little before four o\x92clock, the abbe came in, followed by the
lawyer to whom the baron had confided his last wishes.

\x93My husband!\x94 exclaimed Mme. d\x92Escorval, springing wildly from her
chair.

The priest bowed his head; she understood.

\x93Death!\x94 she faltered. \x93They have condemned him!\x94

And overcome by the terrible blow, she sank back, inert, with hanging
arms.

But the weakness did not last long; she again sprang up, her eyes
brilliant with heroic resolve.

\x93We must save him!\x94 she exclaimed. \x93We must wrest him from the scaffold.
Up, Maurice! up, Marie-Anne! No more weak lamentations, we must to work!
You, also, gentlemen, will aid me. I can count upon your assistance,
Monsieur le Cure. What are we going to do? I do not know! But something
must be done. The death of this just man would be too great a crime. God
will not permit it.\x94

She suddenly paused, with clasped hands, and eyes uplifted to heaven, as
if seeking divine inspiration.

\x93And the King,\x94 she resumed; \x93will the King consent to such a crime? No.
A king can refuse mercy, but he cannot refuse justice. I will go to him.
I will tell him all! Why did not this thought come to me sooner? We must
start for Paris without losing an instant. Maurice, you will accompany
me. One of you gentlemen will go at once and order post-horses.\x94

Thinking they would obey her, she hastened into the next room to make
preparations for her journey.

\x93Poor woman!\x94 the lawyer whispered to the abbe, \x93she does not know that
the sentence of a military commission is executed in twenty-four hours.\x94

\x93Well?\x94

\x93It requires four days to make the journey to Paris.\x94

He reflected a moment, then added:

\x93But, after all, to let her go would be an act of mercy. Did not Ney, on
the morning of his execution, implore the King to order the removal of
his wife who was sobbing and moaning in his cell?\x94

The abbe shook his head.

\x93No,\x94 said he; \x93Madame d\x92Escorval will never forgive us if we prevent
her from receiving her husband\x92s last farewell.\x94

She, at that very moment, re-entered the room, and the priest was trying
to gather courage to tell her the cruel truth, when someone knocked
violently at the door.

One of the officers went to open it, and Bavois, the corporal of
grenadiers, entered, his right hand lifted to his cap, as if he were in
the presence of his superior officer.

\x93Is Mademoiselle Lacheneur here?\x94 he demanded.

Marie-Anne came forward.

\x93I am she, Monsieur,\x94 she replied; \x93what do you desire of me?\x94

\x93I am ordered, Mademoiselle, to conduct you to the citadel.\x94

\x93Ah!\x94 exclaimed Maurice, in a ferocious tone; \x93so they imprison women
also!\x94

The worthy corporal struck himself a heavy blow upon the forehead.

\x93I am an old stupid!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93and express myself badly. I meant
to say that I came to seek mademoiselle at the request of one of the
condemned, a man named Chanlouineau, who desires to speak with her.\x94

\x93Impossible, my good man,\x94 said one of the officers; \x93they would
not allow this lady to visit one of the condemned without special
permission----\x94

\x93Well, she has this permission,\x94 said the old soldier.

Assuring himself, with a glance, that he had nothing to fear from anyone
present, he added, in lower tones:

\x93This Chanlouineau told me that the cure would understand his reasons.\x94

Had the brave peasant really found some means of salvation? The abbe
almost began to believe it.

\x93You must go with this worthy man, Marie-Anne,\x94 said he.

The poor girl shuddered at the thought of seeing Chanlouineau again, but
the idea of refusing never once occurred to her.

\x93Let us go,\x94 she said, quietly.

But the corporal did not stir from his place, and winking, according to
his habit when he desired to attract the attention of his hearers:

\x93In one moment,\x94 he said. \x93This Chanlouineau, who seems to be a shrewd
fellow, told me to tell you that all was going well. May I be hung if I
can see how! Still such is his opinion. He also told me to tell you not
to stir from this place, and not to attempt anything until mademoiselle
returns, which will be in less than an hour. He swears to you that he
will keep his promise; he only asks you to pledge your word that you
will obey him----\x94

\x93We will take no action until an hour has passed,\x94 said the abbe. \x93I
promise that----\x94

\x93That is all. Salute company. And now, Mademoiselle, on the
double-quick, march! The poor devil over there must be on coals of
fire.\x94

That a condemned prisoner should be allowed to receive a visit from
the daughter of the leader of the rebellion--of that Lacheneur who had
succeeded in making his escape--was indeed surprising.

But Chanlouineau had been ingenious enough to discover a means of
procuring this special permission.

With this aim in view, when sentence of death was passed upon him, he
pretended to be overcome with terror, and to weep piteously.

The soldiers could scarcely believe their eyes when they saw this robust
young fellow, who had been so insolent and defiant a few hours before,
so overcome that they were obliged to carry him to his cell.

There, his lamentations were redoubled; and he begged the guard to go
to the Duc de Sairmeuse, or the Marquis de Courtornieu, and tell them he
had revelations of the greatest importance to make.

That potent word \x93revelations\x94 made M. de Courtornieu hasten to the
prisoner\x92s cell.

He found Chanlouineau on his knees, his features distorted by what was
apparently an agony of fear. The man dragged himself toward him, took
his hands and kissed them, imploring mercy and forgiveness, swearing
that to preserve his life he was ready to do anything, yes, anything,
even to deliver up M. Lacheneur.

To capture Lacheneur! Such a prospect had powerful attractions for the
Marquis de Courtornieu.

\x93Do you know, then, where this brigand is concealed?\x94 he inquired.

Chanlouineau admitted that he did not know, but declared that
Marie-Anne, Lacheneur\x92s daughter, knew her father\x92s hiding-place. She
had, he declared, perfect confidence in him; and if they would only send
for her, and allow him ten minutes\x92 private conversation with her,
he was sure he could obtain the secret of her father\x92s place of
concealment. So the bargain was quickly concluded.

The prisoner\x92s life was promised, him in exchange for the life of
Lacheneur.

A soldier, who chanced to be Corporal Bavois, was sent to summon
Marie-Anne.

And Chanlouineau waited in terrible anxiety. No one had told him what
had taken place at Escorval, but he divined it by the aid of that
strange prescience which so often illuminates the mind when death is
near at hand.

He was almost certain that Mme. d\x92Escorval was in Montaignac; he was
equally certain that Marie-Anne was with her; and if she were, he knew
that she would come.

And he waited, counting the seconds by the throbbings of his heart.

He waited, understanding the cause of every sound without,
distinguishing with the marvellous acuteness of senses excited to the
highest pitch by passion, sounds which would have been inaudible to
another person.

At last, at the end of the corridor, he heard the rustling of a dress
against the wall.

\x93It is she,\x94 he murmured.

Footsteps approached; the heavy bolts were drawn back, the door opened,
and Marie-Anne entered, accompanied by Corporal Bavois.

\x93Monsieur de Courtornieu promised me that we should be left alone!\x94
 exclaimed Chanlouineau.

\x93Therefore, I go at once,\x94 replied the old soldier. \x93But I have orders
to return for mademoiselle in half an hour.\x94

When the door closed behind the worthy corporal, Chanlouineau took
Marie-Anne\x92s hand and drew her to the tiny grafted window.

\x93Thank you for coming,\x94 said he, \x93thank you. I can see you and speak to
you once more. Now that my hours are numbered, I may reveal the secret
of my soul and of my life. Now, I can venture to tell you how ardently I
have loved you--how much I still love you.\x94

Involuntarily Marie-Anne drew away her hand and stepped back.

This outburst of passion, at such a moment, seemed at once unspeakably
sad and frightful.

\x93Have I, then, offended you?\x94 said Chanlouineau, sadly. \x93Forgive one who
is about to die! You cannot refuse to listen to the voice of one, who
after tomorrow, will have vanished from earth forever.

\x93I have loved you for a long time, Marie-Anne, for more than six years.
Before I saw you, I loved only my possessions. To raise fine crops, and
to amass a fortune, seemed to me, then, the greatest possible happiness
here below.

\x93Why did I meet you? But at that time you were so high, and I, so low,
that never in my wildest dreams did I aspire to you. I went to church
each Sunday only that I might worship you as peasant women worship the
Blessed Virgin; I went home with my eyes and my heart full of you--and
that was all.

\x93Then came the misfortune that brought us nearer to each other; and your
father made me as insane, yes, as insane as himself.

\x93After the insults he received from the Sairmeuse, your father resolved
to revenge himself upon these arrogant nobles, and he selected me for
his accomplice. He had read my heart. On leaving the house of Baron
d\x92Escorval, on that Sunday evening, which you must remember, the compact
that bound me to your father was made.

\x93\x91You love my daughter, my boy,\x92 said he. \x91Very well, aid me, and I
promise you, in case we succeed, she shall be your wife. Only,\x92 he
added, \x91I must warn you that you hazard your life.\x92

\x93But what was life in comparison with the hope that dazzled me! From
that night I gave body, soul, and fortune to the cause. Others were
influenced by hatred, or by ambition; but I was actuated by neither of
these motives.

\x93What did the quarrels of the great matter to me--a simple laborer? I
knew that the greatest were powerless to give my crops a drop of rain in
season of drought, or a ray of sunshine during the rain.

\x93I took part in this conspiracy because I loved you----\x94

\x93Ah! you are cruel!\x94 exclaimed Marie-Anne, \x93you are pitiless!\x94

It seemed to the poor girl that he was reproaching her for the horrible
fate which Lacheneur had brought upon him, and for the terrible part
which her father had imposed upon her, and which she had not been strong
enough to refuse to perform.

But Chanlouineau scarcely heard Marie-Anne\x92s exclamation. All the
bitterness of the past had mounted to his brain like fumes of alcohol.
He was scarcely conscious of his own words.

\x93But the day soon came,\x94 he continued, \x93when my foolish illusions were
destroyed. You could not be mine since you belonged to another. I might
have broken my compact! I thought of doing so, but had not the courage.
To see you, to hear your voice, to dwell beneath the same roof with you,
was happiness. I longed to see you happy and honored; I fought for the
triumph of another, for him whom you had chosen----\x94

A sob that had risen in his throat choked his utterance; he buried
his face in his hands to hide his tears, and, for a moment, seemed
completely overcome.

But he mastered his weakness after a little and in a firm voice, he
said:

\x93We must not linger over the past. Time flies and the future is
ominous.\x94

As he spoke, he went to the door and applied first his eye, then his ear
to the opening, to see that there were no spies without.

No one was in the corridor; he could not hear a sound.

He came back to Marie-Anne\x92s side, and tearing the sleeve of his jacket
open with his teeth, he drew from it two letters, wrapped carefully in a
piece of cloth.

\x93Here,\x94 he said, in a low voice, \x93is a man\x92s life!\x94

Marie-Anne knew nothing of Chanlouineau\x92s promises and hopes, and
bewildered by her distress, she did not at first understand.

\x93This,\x94 she exclaimed, \x93is a man\x92s life!\x94

\x93Hush, speak lower!\x94 interrupted Chanlouineau. \x93Yes, one of these
letters might perhaps save the life of one who has been condemned to
death.\x94

\x93Unfortunate man! Why do you not make use of it and save yourself?\x94

The young man sadly shook his head.

\x93Is it possible that you could ever love me?\x94 he said, simply. \x93No, it
is not. I have, therefore, no desire to live. Rest beneath the sod is
preferable to the misery I am forced to endure. Moreover I was justly
condemned. I knew what I was doing when I left the Reche with my gun
upon my shoulder, and my sword by my side; I have no right to complain.
But those cruel judges have condemned an innocent man----\x94

\x93Baron d\x92Escorval?\x94

\x93Yes--the father of--Maurice!\x94

His voice changed in uttering the name of this man, for whose happiness
he would have given ten lives had they been his to give.

\x93I wish to save him,\x94 he added, \x93I can do it.\x94

\x93Oh! if what you said were true? But you undoubtedly deceive yourself.\x94

\x93I know what I am saying.\x94

Fearing that some spy outside would overhear him, he came close to
Marie-Anne and said, rapidly, and in a low voice:

\x93I never believed in the success of this conspiracy. When I sought for a
weapon of defence in case of failure, the Marquis de Sairmeuse furnished
it. When it became necessary to send a circular warning our accomplices
of the date decided upon for the uprising, I persuaded Monsieur Martial
to write a model. He suspected nothing. I told him it was for a wedding;
he did what I asked. This letter, which is now in my possession, is
the rough draft of the circular; and it was written by the hand of the
Marquis de Sairmeuse. It is impossible for him to deny it. There is an
erasure on each line. Everyone would regard it as the handiwork of a man
who was seeking to convey his real meaning in ambiguous phrases.\x94

Chanlouineau opened the envelope and showed her the famous letter which
he had dictated, and in which the space for the date of the insurrection
was left blank.

\x93My dear friend, we are at last agreed, and the marriage is decided,
etc.\x94

The light that had sparkled in Marie-Anne\x92s eye was suddenly
extinguished.

\x93And you believe that this letter can be of any service?\x94 she inquired,
in evident discouragement.

\x93I do not believe it!\x94

\x93But----\x94

With a gesture, he interrupted her.

\x93We must not lose time in discussion--listen to me. Of itself, this
letter might be unimportant, but I have arranged matters in such a way
that it will produce a powerful effect. I declared before the commission
that the Marquis de Sairmeuse was one of the leaders of the movement.
They laughed; and I read incredulity on the faces of the judges. But
calumny is never without its effect. When the Duc de Sairmeuse is about
to receive a reward for his services, there will be enemies in plenty
to remember and to repeat my words. He knew this so well that he was
greatly agitated, even while his colleagues sneered at my accusation.\x94

\x93To accuse a man falsely is a great crime,\x94 murmured the honest
Marie-Anne.

\x93Yes, but I wish to save my friend, and I cannot choose my means. I
was all the more sure of success as I knew that the marquis had been
wounded. I declared that he was fighting against the troops by my side;
I demanded that he should be summoned before the tribunal; I told them
that I had in my possession unquestionable proofs of his complicity.\x94

\x93Did you say that the Marquis de Sairmeuse had been wounded?\x94 inquired
Marie-Anne.

Chanlouineau\x92s face betrayed the most intense astonishment.

\x93What!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93you do not know----\x94

Then after an instant\x92s reflection:

\x93Fool that I am!\x94 he resumed. \x93Who could have told you what had
happened? You remember that when we were travelling over the Sairmeuse
road on our way to the Croix d\x92Arcy, and after your father had left
us to ride on in advance, Maurice placed himself at the head of one
division, and you walked beside him, while your brother Jean and myself
stayed behind to urge on the laggards. We were performing our duty
conscientiously when suddenly we heard the gallop of a horse behind us.
\x91We must know who is coming,\x92 Jean said to me.

\x93We paused. The horse soon reached us; we caught the bridle and held
him. Can you guess who the rider was? Martial de Sairmeuse.

\x93To describe your brother\x92s fury on recognizing the marquis would be
impossible.

\x93\x91At last I find you, wretched noble!\x92 he exclaimed, \x91and now we will
settle our account! After reducing my father, who has just given you a
fortune, to despair and penury, you have tried to degrade my sister. I
will have my revenge! Down, we must fight!\x92\x94

Marie-Anne could scarcely tell whether she was awake or dreaming.

\x93My brother,\x94 she murmured, \x93has challenged the marquis! Is it
possible?\x94

\x93Brave as Monsieur Martial is,\x94 pursued Chanlouineau, \x93he did not seem
inclined to accept the invitation. He stammered out something like this:
\x91You are mad--you are jesting--have we not always been friends? What
does this mean?\x92

\x93Jean ground his teeth in rage. \x91This means that we have endured your
insulting familiarity long enough,\x92 he replied, \x91and if you do not
dismount and meet me in open combat, I will blow your brains out!\x92

\x93Your brother, as he spoke, manipulated his pistol in so threatening a
manner that the marquis dismounted, and addressing me:

\x93\x91You see, Chanlouineau,\x92 he said, \x91I must fight a duel or submit to
assassination. If Jean kills me there is no more to be said--but if I
kill him, what is to be done?\x92

\x93I told him he would be free to depart on condition he would give me his
word not to return to Montaignac before two o\x92clock.

\x93\x91Then I accept the challenge,\x92 said he; \x91give me a weapon.\x92

\x93I gave him my sword, your brother drew his, and they took their places
in the middle of the highway.\x94

The young farmer paused to take breath, then said, more slowly:

\x93Marie-Anne, your father and I have misjudged your brother. Poor Jean\x92s
appearance is terribly against him. His face indicates a treacherous,
cowardly nature, his smile is cunning, and his eyes always shun yours.
We have distrusted him, but we should ask his pardon. A man who fights
as I saw him fight, is deserving of confidence. For this combat in
the public road, and in the darkness of the night, was terrible. They
attacked each other silently but furiously. At last Jean fell.\x94

\x93Ah! my brother is dead!\x94 exclaimed Marie-Anne.

\x93No,\x94 responded Chanlouineau; \x93at least we have reason to hope not; and
I know he has not lacked any attention. This duel had another witness,
a man named Poignot, whom you must remember; he was one of your father\x92s
tenants. He took Jean, promising me that he would conceal him and care
for him.

\x93As for the marquis, he showed me that he too was wounded, and then he
remounted his horse, saying:

\x93\x91What could I do? He would have it so.\x92\x94

Marie-Anne understood now.

\x93Give me the letter,\x94 she said to Chanlouineau, \x93I will go to the duke.
I will find some way to reach him, and then God will tell me what course
to pursue.\x94

The noble peasant handed the girl the tiny scrap of paper which might
have been his own salvation.

\x93On no account,\x94 said he, \x93must you allow the duke to suppose that you
have upon your person the proof with which you threaten him. Who knows
of what he might be capable under such circumstances? He will say, at
first, that he can do nothing--that he sees no way to save the baron.
You will tell him that he must find a means, if he does not wish this
letter sent to Paris, to one of his enemies----\x94

He paused; he heard the grating of the bolt. Corporal Bavois reappeared.

\x93The half hour expired ten minutes ago,\x94 he said, sadly. \x93I have my
orders.\x94

\x93Coming,\x94 said Chanlouineau; \x93all is ended!\x94

And handing Marie-Anne the second letter:

\x93This is for you,\x94 he added. \x93You will read it when I am no more. Pray,
pray, do not weep thus! Be brave! You will soon be the wife of Maurice.
And when you are happy, think sometimes of the poor peasant who loved
you so much.\x94

Marie-Anne could not utter a word, but she lifted her face to his.

\x93Ah! I dared not ask it!\x94 he exclaimed.

And for the first time he clasped her in his arms and pressed his lips
to her pallid cheek.

\x93Now adieu,\x94 he said once more. \x93Do not lose a moment. Adieu!\x94



CHAPTER XXIX

The prospect of capturing Lacheneur, the chief conspirator, excited the
Marquis de Courtornieu so much that he had not been able to tear himself
away from the citadel to return home to his dinner.

Remaining near the entrance of the dark corridor leading to
Chanlouineau\x92s cell, he watched Marie-Anne depart; but as he saw her go
out into the twilight with a quick, alert step, he felt a sudden doubt
of Chanlouineau\x92s sincerity.

\x93Can it be that this miserable peasant has deceived me?\x94 he thought.

So strong was this suspicion that he hastened after her, determined to
question her--to ascertain the truth--to arrest her, if necessary.

But he no longer possessed the agility of youth, and when he reached the
gateway the guard told him that Mlle. Lacheneur had already passed out.
He rushed out after her, looked about on every side, but could see no
trace of her. He re-entered the citadel, furious with himself for his
own credulity.

\x93Still, I can visit Chanlouineau,\x94 thought he, \x93and to-morrow will be
time enough to summon this creature and question her.\x94

\x93This creature\x94 was even then hastening up the long, ill-paved street
that led to the Hotel de France.

Regardless of self, and of the curious gaze of a few passers-by, she ran
on, thinking only of shortening the terrible anxiety which her friends
at the hotel must be enduring.

\x93All is not lost!\x94 she exclaimed, on re-entering the room.

\x93My God, Thou hast heard my prayers!\x94 murmured the baroness.

Then, suddenly seized by a horrible dread, she added:

\x93Do not attempt to deceive me. Are you not trying to delude me with
false hopes? That would be cruel!\x94

\x93I am not deceiving you, Madame, Chanlouineau has given me a weapon,
which, _I_ hope and believe, places the Duc de Sairmeuse in our power.
He is omnipotent in Montaignac; the only man who could oppose him,
Monsieur de Courtornieu, is his friend. I believe that Monsieur
d\x92Escorval can be saved.\x94

\x93Speak!\x94 cried Maurice; \x93what must we do?\x94

\x93Pray and wait, Maurice. I must act alone in this matter, but be assured
that I--the cause of all your misfortune--will leave nothing undone
which is possible for mortal to do.\x94

Absorbed in the task which she had imposed upon herself, Marie-Anne had
failed to remark a stranger who had arrived during her absence--an old
white-haired peasant.

The abbe called her attention to him.

\x93Here is a courageous friend,\x94 said he, \x93who since morning, has been
searching for you everywhere, in, order to give you news of your
father.\x94

Marie-Anne was so overcome that she could scarcely falter her gratitude.

\x93Oh, you need not thank me,\x94 answered the brave peasant. \x93I said to
myself: \x91The poor girl must be terribly anxious. I ought to relieve her
of her misery.\x92 So I came to tell you that Monsieur Lacheneur is safe
and well, except for a wound in the leg, which causes him considerable
suffering, but which will be healed in two or three weeks. My
son-in-law, who was hunting yesterday in the mountains, met him near the
frontier in company with two of his friends. By this time he must be in
Piedmont, beyond the reach of the gendarmes.\x94

\x93Let us hope now,\x94 said the abbe, \x93that we shall soon hear what has
become of Jean.\x94

\x93I know, already, Monsieur,\x94 responded Marie-Anne; \x93my brother has been
badly wounded, and he is now under the protection of kind friends.\x94

She bowed her head, almost crushed beneath her burden of sorrow, but
soon rallying, she exclaimed:

\x93What am I doing! What right have I to think of my friends, when upon
my promptness and upon my courage depends the life of an innocent man
compromised by them?\x94

Maurice, the abbe, and the officers surrounded the brave young girl.
They wished to know what she was about to attempt, and to dissuade her
from incurring useless danger.

She refused to reply to their pressing questions. They wished to
accompany her, or, at least, to follow her at a distance, but she
declared that she must go alone.

\x93I will return in less than two hours, and then we can decide what must
be done,\x94 said she, as she hastened away.

To obtain an audience with the Duc de Sairmeuse was certainly a
difficult matter; Maurice and the abbe had proved that only too well
the previous day. Besieged by weeping and heart-broken families, he shut
himself up securely, fearing, perhaps, that he might be moved by their
entreaties.

Marie-Anne knew this, but it did not alarm her. Chanlouineau had given
her a word, the same which he had used; and this word was a key which
would unlock the most firmly and obstinately locked doors.

In the vestibule of the house occupied by the Duc de Sairmeuse, three or
four valets stood talking.

\x93I am the daughter of Monsieur Lacheneur,\x94 said Marie-Anne, addressing
one of them. \x93I must speak to the duke at once, on matters connected
with the revolt.\x94

\x93The duke is absent.\x94

\x93I came to make a revelation.\x94

The servant\x92s manner suddenly changed.

\x93In that case follow me, Mademoiselle.\x94

She followed him up the stairs and through two or three rooms. At last
he opened a door, saying, \x93enter.\x94 She went in.

It was not the Duc de Sairmeuse who was in the room, but his son,
Martial.

Stretched upon a sofa, he was reading a paper by the light of a large
candelabra.

On seeing Marie-Anne he sprang up, as pale and agitated as if the door
had given passage to a spectre.

\x93You!\x94 he stammered.

But he quickly mastered his emotion, and in a second his quick mind
revolved all the possibilities that might have produced this visit:

\x93Lacheneur has been arrested!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93and you, wishing to save
him from the fate which the military commission will pronounce upon him,
have thought of me. Thank you, dearest Marie-Anne, thank you for your
confidence. I will not abuse it. Let your heart be reassured. We will
save your father, I promise you--I swear it. How, I do not yet know. But
what does that matter? It is enough that he shall be saved. I will have
it so!\x94

His voice betrayed the intense passion and joy that was surging in his
heart.

\x93My father has not been arrested,\x94 said Marie-Anne, coldly.

\x93Then,\x94 said Martial, with some hesitation, \x93then it is Jean who is a
prisoner.\x94

\x93My brother is in safety. If he survives his wounds he will escape all
attempts at capture.\x94

From white the Marquis de Sairmeuse had turned as red as fire. By
Marie-Anne\x92s manner he saw that she knew of the duel. He made no attempt
to deny it; but he tried to excuse himself.

\x93It was Jean who challenged me,\x94 said he; \x93I tried to avoid it. I only
defended my own life in fair combat, and with equal weapons----\x94

Marie-Anne interrupted him.

\x93I reproach you for nothing, Monsieur le Marquis,\x94 she said, quietly.

\x93Ah! Marie-Anne, I am more severe than you. Jean was right to challenge
me. I deserved his anger. He knew the baseness of which I had been
guilty; but you--you were ignorant of it. Oh! Marie-Anne, if I wronged
you in thought it was because I did not know you. Now I know that you,
above all others, are pure and chaste.\x94

He tried to take her hands; she repulsed him with horror; and broke into
a fit of passionate sobbing.

Of all the blows she had received this last was most terrible and
overwhelming.

What humiliation and shame--! Now, indeed, was her cup of sorrow filled
to overflowing. \x93Chaste and pure!\x94 he had said. Oh, bitter mockery!

But Martial misunderstood the meaning of the poor girl\x92s gesture.

\x93Oh! I comprehend your indignation,\x94 he resumed, with growing eagerness.
\x93But if I have injured you even in thought, I now offer you reparation.
I have been a fool--a miserable fool--for I love you; I love, and can
love you only. I am the Marquis de Sairmeuse. I am the possessor of
millions. I entreat you, I implore you to be my wife.\x94

Marie-Anne listened in utter bewilderment. Vertigo seized her; even
reason seemed to totter upon its throne.

But now, it had been Chanlouineau who, in his prison-cell, cried that he
died for love of her. Now, it was Martial who avowed his willingness to
sacrifice his ambition and his future for her sake.

And the poor peasant condemned to death, and the son of the all-powerful
Duc de Sairmeuse, had avowed their passion in almost the very same
words.

Martial paused, awaiting some response--a word, a gesture. But
Marie-Anne remained mute, motionless, frozen.

\x93You are silent,\x94 he cried, with increased vehemence. \x93Do you question
my sincerity? No, it is impossible! Then why this silence? Do you fear
my father\x92s opposition? You need not. I know how to gain his consent.
Besides, what does his approbation matter to us? Have we any need of
him? Am I not my own master? Am I not rich--immensely rich? I should be
a miserable fool, a coward, if I hesitated between his stupid prejudices
and the happiness of my life.\x94

He was evidently obliging himself to weigh all the possible objections,
in order to answer them and overrule them.

\x93Is it on account of your family that you hesitate?\x94 he continued. \x93Your
father and brother are pursued, and France is closed against them. Very
well, we will leave France, and they shall come and live near you. Jean
will no longer dislike me when you are my wife. We will all live in
England or in Italy. Now I am grateful for the fortune that will enable
me to make life a continual enchantment for you. I love you--and in the
happiness and tender love which shall be yours in the future, I will
compel you to forget all the bitterness of the past!\x94

Marie-Anne knew the Marquis de Sairmeuse well enough to understand the
intensity of the love revealed by these astounding propositions.

And for that very reason she hesitated to tell him that he had won this
triumph over his pride in vain.

She was anxiously wondering to what extremity his wounded vanity would
carry him, and if a refusal would not transform him into a bitter enemy.

\x93Why do you not answer?\x94 asked Martial, with evident anxiety.

She felt that she must reply, that she must speak, say something; but
she could not unclose her lips.

\x93I am only a poor girl, Monsieur le Marquis,\x94 she murmured, at last. \x93If
I accepted your offer, you would regret it continually.\x94

\x93Never!\x94

\x93But you are no longer free. You have already plighted your troth.
Mademoiselle Blanche de Courtornieu is your promised wife.\x94

\x93Ah! say one word--only one--and this engagement, which I detest, is
broken.\x94

She was silent. It was evident that her mind was fully made up, and that
she refused his offer.

\x93Do you hate me, then?\x94 asked Martial, sadly.

If she had allowed herself to tell the whole truth Marie-Anne would have
answered \x93Yes.\x94 The Marquis de Sairmeuse did inspire her with an almost
insurmountable aversion.

\x93I no more belong to myself than you belong to yourself, Monsieur,\x94 she
faltered.

A gleam of hatred, quickly extinguished, shone in Martial\x92s eye.

\x93Always Maurice!\x94 said he.

\x93Always.\x94

She expected an angry outburst, but he remained perfectly calm.

\x93Then,\x94 said he, with a forced smile, \x93I must believe this and other
evidence. I must believe that you have forced me to play a most
ridiculous part. Until now I doubted it.\x94

The poor girl bowed her head, crimsoning with shame to the roots of her
hair; but she made no attempt at denial.

\x93_I_ was not my own mistress,\x94 she stammered; \x93my father commanded and
threatened, and I--I obeyed him.\x94

\x93That matters little,\x94 he interrupted; \x93your role has not been that
which a pure young girl should play.\x94

It was the only reproach he had uttered, and still he regretted it,
perhaps because he did not wish her to know how deeply he was wounded,
perhaps because--as he afterward declared--he could not overcome his
love for Marie-Anne.

\x93Now,\x94 he resumed, \x93I understand your presence here. You come to ask
mercy for Monsieur d\x92Escorval.\x94

\x93Not mercy, but justice. The baron is innocent.\x94

Martial approached Marie-Anne, and lowering his voice:

\x93If the father is innocent,\x94 he whispered, \x93then it is the son who is
guilty.\x94

She recoiled in terror. He knew the secret which the judges could not,
or would not penetrate.

But seeing her anguish, he had pity.

\x93Another reason,\x94 said he, \x93for attempting to save the baron! His blood
shed upon the guillotine would form an impassable gulf between Maurice
and you. I will join my efforts to yours.\x94

Blushing and embarrassed, Marie-Anne dared not thank him. How was she
about to reward his generosity? By vilely traducing him. Ah! she would
infinitely have preferred to see him angry and revengeful.

Just then a valet opened the door, and the Duc de Sairmeuse, still in
full uniform, entered.

\x93Upon my word!\x94 he exclaimed, as he crossed the threshold, \x93I must
confess that Chupin is an admirable hunter. Thanks to him----\x94

He paused abruptly; he had not perceived Marie-Anne until now.

\x93The daughter of that scoundrel Lacheneur!\x94 said he, with an air of the
utmost surprise. \x93What does she desire here?\x94

The decisive moment had come--the life of the baron hung upon
Marie-Anne\x92s courage and address. The consciousness of the terrible
responsibility devolving upon her restored her self-control and calmness
as if by magic.

\x93I have a revelation to sell to you, Monsieur,\x94 she said, resolutely.

The duke regarded her with mingled wonder and curiosity; then, laughing
heartily, he threw himself upon a sofa, exclaiming:

\x93Sell it, my pretty one--sell it!\x94

\x93I cannot speak until I am alone with you.\x94

At a sign from his father, Martial left the room.

\x93You can speak now,\x94 said the duke.

She did not lose a second.

\x93You must have read, Monsieur,\x94 she began, \x93the circular convening the
conspirators.\x94

\x93Certainly; I have a dozen copies in my pocket.\x94

\x93By whom do you suppose it was written?\x94

\x93By the elder d\x92Escorval, or by your father.\x94

\x93You are mistaken, Monsieur; that letter was the work of the Marquis de
Sairmeuse, your son.\x94

The duke sprang up, fire flashing from his eyes, his face purple with
anger.

\x93Zounds! girl! I advise you to bridle your tongue!\x94

\x93The proof of what I have asserted exists.\x94

\x93Silence, you hussy, or----\x94

\x93The lady who sends me here, Monsieur, possesses the original of this
circular written by the hand of Monsieur Martial, and I am obliged to
tell you----\x94

She did not have an opportunity to complete the sentence. The duke
sprang to the door, and, in a voice of thunder, called his son.

As soon as Martial entered the room:

\x93Repeat,\x94 said the duke--\x93repeat before my son what you have just said
to me.\x94

Boldly, with head erect, and clear, firm voice, Marie-Anne repeated her
accusation.

She expected, on the part of the marquis, an indignant denial, cruel
reproaches, or an angry explanation. Not a word. He listened with a
nonchalant air, and she almost believed she could read in his eyes an
encouragement to proceed, and a promise of protection.

When she had concluded:

\x93Well!\x94 demanded the duke, imperiously.

\x93First,\x94 replied Martial, lightly, \x93I would like to see this famous
circular.\x94

The duke handed him a copy.

\x93Here--read it.\x94

Martial glanced over it, laughed heartily, and exclaimed:

\x93A clever trick.\x94

\x93What do you say?\x94

\x93I say that this Chanlouineau is a sly rascal. Who the devil would have
thought the fellow so cunning to see his honest face? Another lesson to
teach one not to trust to appearances.\x94

In all his life the Duc de Sairmeuse had never received so severe a
shock.

\x93Chanlouineau was not lying, then,\x94 he said to his son, in a choked,
unnatural voice; \x93you _were_ one of the instigators of this rebellion,
then?\x94

Martial\x92s face grew dark, and in a tone of disdainful hauteur, he
replied:

\x93This is the fourth time, sir, that you have addressed that question to
me, and for the fourth time I answer: \x91No.\x92 That should suffice. If the
fancy had seized me for taking part in this movement, I should frankly
confess it. What possible reason could I have for concealing anything
from you?\x94

\x93The facts!\x94 interrupted the duke, in a frenzy of passion; \x93the facts!\x94

\x93Very well,\x94 rejoined Martial, in his usual indifferent tone; \x93the fact
is that the model of this circular does exist, that it was written in my
best hand on a very large sheet of very poor paper. I recollect that
in trying to find appropriate expressions I erased and rewrote several
words. Did I date this writing? I think I did, but I could not swear to
it.\x94

\x93How do you reconcile this with your denials?\x94 exclaimed M. de
Sairmeuse.

\x93I can do this easily. Did I not tell you just now that Chanlouineau had
made a tool of me?\x94

The duke no longer knew what to believe; but what exasperated him more
than all else was his son\x92s imperturbable tranquillity.

\x93Confess, rather, that you have been led into this filth by your
mistress,\x94 he retorted, pointing to Marie-Anne.

But this insult Martial would not tolerate.

\x93Mademoiselle Lacheneur is not my mistress,\x94 he replied, in a tone so
imperious that it was a menace. \x93It is true, however, that it rests
only with her to decide whether she will be the Marquise de Sairmeuse
tomorrow. Let us abandon these recriminations, they do not further the
progress of our business.\x94

The faint glimmer of reason which still lighted M. de Sairmeuse\x92s mind,
checked the still more insulting reply that rose to his lips. Trembling
with suppressed rage, he made the circuit of the room several times,
and finally paused before Marie-Anne, who remained in the same place, as
motionless as a statue.

\x93Come, my good girl,\x94 said he, \x93give me the writing.\x94

\x93It is not in my possession, sir.\x94

\x93Where is it?\x94

\x93In the hands of a person who will give it to you only under certain
conditions.\x94

\x93Who is this person?\x94

\x93I am not at liberty to tell you.\x94

There was both admiration and jealousy in the look that Martial fixed
upon Marie-Anne.

He was amazed by her coolness and presence of mind. Ah! how powerful
must be the passion that imparted such a ringing clearness to her voice,
such brilliancy to her eyes, such precision to her responses.

\x93And if I should not accept the--the conditions which are imposed, what
then?\x94 asked M. de Sairmeuse.

\x93In that case the writing will be utilized.\x94

\x93What do you mean by that?\x94

\x93I mean, sir, that early to-morrow morning a trusty messenger will start
for Paris, charged with the task of submitting this document to the eyes
of certain persons who are not exactly friends of yours. He will show it
to Monsieur Laine, for example--or to the Duc de Richelieu; and he will,
of course, explain to them its significance and its value. Will this
writing prove the complicity of the Marquis de Sairmeuse? Yes, or no?
Have you, or have you not, dared to try and to condemn to death the
unfortunate men who were only the tools of your son?\x94

\x93Ah, wretch! hussy! viper!\x94 interrupted the duke. He was beside himself.
A foam gathered upon his lips, his eyes seemed starting from their
sockets; he was no longer conscious of what he was saying.

\x93This,\x94 he exclaimed, with wild gestures, \x93is enough to appall me! Yes,
I have bitter enemies, envious rivals who would give their right hand
for this execrable letter. Ah! if they obtain it they will demand an
investigation, and then farewell to the rewards due to my services.

\x93It will be shouted from the house-tops that Chanlouineau, in the
presence of the tribunal, declared you, Marquis, his leader and his
accomplice. You will be obliged to submit to the scrutiny of physicians,
who, seeing a freshly healed wound, will require you to tell where you
received it, and why you concealed it.

\x93Of what shall I _not_ be accused? They will say that I expedited
matters in order to silence the voice that had been raised against
my son. Perhaps they will even say that I secretly favored the
insurrection; I shall be vilified in the journals.

\x93And who has thus ruined the fortunes of our house, that promised so
brilliantly? You, you alone, Marquis.

\x93You believe in nothing, you doubt everything--you are cold, sceptical,
disdainful, _blase_. But a pretty woman makes her appearance on the
scene. You go wild like a school-boy and are ready to commit any act of
folly. It is you who I am addressing, Marquis. Do you hear me? Speak!
what have you to say?\x94

Martial had listened to this tirade with unconcealed scorn, and without
even attempting to interrupt it.

Now he responded, slowly:

\x93I think, sir, if Mademoiselle Lacheneur _had_ any doubts of the value
of the document she possesses, she has them no longer.\x94

This response fell upon the duke\x92s wrath like a bucket of ice-water. He
instantly comprehended his folly; and frightened by his own words, he
stood stupefied with astonishment.

Without deigning to add another word, the marquis turned to Marie-Anne.

\x93Will you be so kind as to explain what is required of my father in
exchange for this letter?\x94

\x93The life and liberty of Monsieur d\x92Escorval.\x94

The duke started as if he had received an electric shock.

\x93Ah!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93I knew they would ask something that was
impossible!\x94

He sank back in his arm-chair. A profound despair succeeded his frenzy.
He buried his face in his hands, evidently seeking some expedient.

\x93Why did you not come to me before judgment was pronounced?\x94 he
murmured. \x93Then I could have done anything--now, my hands are bound. The
commission has spoken; the judgment must be executed----\x94

He rose, and in the tone of a man who is resigned to anything, he said:

\x93Decidedly. I should risk more in attempting to save the baron\x94--in his
anxiety he gave M. d\x92Escorval his title--\x93a thousand times more than I
have to fear from my enemies. So, Mademoiselle\x94--he no longer said \x93my
good girl\x94--\x93you can utilize your document.\x94

The duke was about leaving the room, but Martial detained him by a
gesture.

\x93Think again before you decide. Our situation is not without a
precedent. A few months ago the Count de Lavalette was condemned to
death. The King wished to pardon him, but his ministers and friends
opposed it. Though the King was master, what did he do? He seemed to
be deaf to all the supplications made in the prisoner\x92s behalf. The
scaffold was erected, and yet Lavalette was saved! And no one was
compromised--yes, a jailer lost his position; he is living on his income
now.\x94

Marie-Anne caught eagerly at the idea so cleverly presented by Martial.

\x93Yes,\x94 she exclaimed, \x93the Count de Lavalette, protected by royal
connivance, succeeded in making his escape.\x94

The simplicity of the expedient--the authority of the example--seemed to
make a vivid impression upon the duke. He was silent for a moment, and
Marie-Anne fancied she saw an expression of relief steal over his face.

\x93Such an attempt would be very hazardous,\x94 he murmured; \x93yet, with care,
and if one were sure that the secret would be kept----\x94

\x93Oh! the secret will be religiously preserved, Monsieur,\x94 interrupted
Marie-Anne.

With a glance Martial recommended silence; then turning to his father,
he said:

\x93One can always consider an expedient, and calculate the
consequences--that does not bind one. When is this sentence to be
carried into execution?\x94

\x93To-morrow,\x94 responded the duke.

But even this terrible response did not cause Marie-Anne any alarm.
The duke\x92s anxiety and terror had taught her how much reason she had to
hope; and she saw that Martial had openly espoused her cause.

\x93We have, then, only the night before us,\x94 resumed the marquis.
\x93Fortunately, it is only half-past seven, and until ten o\x92clock my
father can visit the citadel without exciting the slightest suspicion.\x94

He paused suddenly. His eyes, in which had shone almost absolute
confidence, became gloomy. He had just discovered an unexpected and, as
it seemed to him, almost insurmountable difficulty.

\x93Have we any intelligent men in the citadel?\x94 he murmured. \x93The
assistance of a jailer or of a soldier is indispensable.\x94

He turned to his father, and brusquely asked: \x93Have you any man in whom
you can confide?\x94

\x93I have three or four spies--they can be bought.\x94

\x93No! the wretch who betrays his comrade for a few sous, will betray you
for a few louis. We must have an honest man who sympathizes with the
opinions of Baron d\x92Escorval--an old soldier who fought under Napoleon,
if possible.\x94

A sudden inspiration visited Marie-Anne\x92s mind.

\x93I know the man that you require!\x94 she cried.

\x93You?\x94

\x93Yes, I. At the citadel.\x94

\x93Take care! Remember that he must risk much. If this should be
discovered, those who take part in it will be sacrificed.\x94

\x93He of whom I speak is the man you need. I will be responsible for him.\x94

\x93And he is a soldier?\x94

\x93He is only an humble corporal; but the nobility of his nature entitles
him to the highest rank. Believe me, we can safely confide in him.\x94

If she spoke thus, she who would willingly have given her life for the
baron\x92s salvation, she must be absolutely certain.

So thought Martial.

\x93I will confer with this man,\x94 said he. \x93What is his name?\x94

\x93He is called Bavois, and he is a corporal in the first company of
grenadiers.\x94

\x93Bavois,\x94 repeated Martial, as if to fix the name in his memory;
\x93Bavois. My father will find some pretext for desiring him summoned.\x94

\x93It is easy to find a pretext. He was the brave soldier left on guard at
Escorval after the troops left the house.\x94

\x93This promises well,\x94 said Martial. He had risen and gone to the
fireplace in order to be nearer his father.

\x93I suppose,\x94 he continued, \x93the baron has been separated from the other
prisoners?\x94

\x93Yes, he is alone, in a large and very comfortable room.\x94

\x93Where is it?\x94

\x93On the second story of the corner tower.\x94

But Martial, who was not so well acquainted with the citadel as his
father, was obliged to reflect a moment.

\x93The corner tower!\x94 said he; \x93is not that the tall tower which one sees
from a distance, and which is built on a spot where the rock is almost
perpendicular?\x94

\x93Precisely.\x94

By the promptness M. de Sairmeuse displayed in replying, it was easy
to see that he was ready to risk a good deal to effect the prisoner\x92s
deliverance.

\x93What kind of a window is that in the baron\x92s room?\x94 inquired Martial.

\x93It is quite large and furnished with a double row of iron bars,
securely fastened into the stone walls.\x94

\x93It is easy enough to cut these bars. On which side does this window
look?\x94

\x93On the country.\x94

\x93That is to say, it overlooks the precipice. The devil! That is a
serious difficulty, and yet, in one respect, it is an advantage, for
they station no sentinels there, do they?\x94

\x93Never. Between the citadel wall and the edge of the precipice there
is barely standing-room. The soldiers do not venture there even in the
daytime.\x94

\x93There is one more important question. What is the distance from
Monsieur d\x92Escorval\x92s window to the ground?\x94

\x93It is about forty feet from the base of the tower.\x94

\x93Good! And from the base of the tower to the foot of the precipice--how
far is that?\x94

\x93Really, I scarcely know. Sixty feet, at least, I should think.\x94

\x93Ah, that is high, terribly high. The baron fortunately is still agile
and vigorous.\x94 The duke began to be impatient.

\x93Now,\x94 said he to his son, \x93will you be so kind as to explain your
plan?\x94

Martial had gradually resumed the careless tone which always exasperated
his father.

\x93He is sure of success,\x94 thought Marie-Anne.

\x93My plan is simplicity itself,\x94 replied Martial. \x93Sixty and forty are
one hundred. It is necessary to procure one hundred feet of strong rope.
It will make a very large bundle; but no matter. I will twist it around
me, envelop myself in a large cloak, and accompany you to the citadel.
You will send for Corporal Bavois; you will leave me alone with him in a
quiet place; I will explain our wishes.\x94

M. de Sairmeuse shrugged his shoulders.

\x93And how will you procure a hundred feet of rope at this hour in
Montaignac? Will you go about from shop to shop? You might as well
trumpet your project at once.\x94

\x93I shall attempt nothing of the kind. What I cannot do the friends of
the Escorval family will do.\x94

The duke was about to offer some new objection when his son interrupted
him.

\x93Pray do not forget the danger that threatens us,\x94 he said, earnestly,
\x93nor the little time that is left us. I have committed a fault, leave me
to repair it.\x94

And turning to Marie-Anne:

\x93You may consider the baron saved,\x94 he pursued; \x93but it is necessary
for me to confer with one of his friends. Return at once to the Hotel de
France and tell the cure to meet me on the Place d\x92Armes, where I go to
await him.\x94



CHAPTER XXX

Though among the first to be arrested at the time of the panic before
Montaignac, the Baron d\x92Escorval had not for an instant deluded himself
with false hopes.

\x93I am a lost man,\x94 he thought. And confronting death calmly, he now
thought only of the danger that threatened his son.

His mistake before the judges was the result of his preoccupation.

He did not breathe freely until he saw Maurice led from the hall by Abbe
Midon and the friendly officers, for he knew that his son would try to
confess connection with the affair.

Then, calm and composed, with head erect, and steadfast eye, he listened
to the death-sentence.

In the confusion that ensued in removing the prisoners from the hall,
the baron found himself beside Chanlouineau, who had begun his noisy
lamentations.

\x93Courage, my boy,\x94 he said, indignant at such apparent cowardice.

\x93Ah! it is easy to talk,\x94 whined the young farmer.

Then seeing that no one was observing them, he leaned toward the baron,
and whispered:

\x93It is for you I am working. Save all your strength for to-night.\x94

Chanlouineau\x92s words and burning glance surprised M. d\x92Escorval, but he
attributed both to fear. When the guards took him back to his cell, he
threw himself upon his pallet, and before him rose that vision of the
last hour, which is at once the hope and despair of those who are about
to die.

He knew the terrible laws that govern a court-martial. The next day--in
a few hours--at dawn, perhaps, they would take him from his cell, place
him in front of a squad of soldiers, an officer would lift his sword,
and all would be over.

Then what was to become of his wife and his son?

His agony on thinking of these dear ones was terrible. He was alone; he
wept.

But suddenly he started up, ashamed of his weakness. He must not
allow these thoughts to unnerve him. He was determined to meet death
unflinchingly. Resolved to shake off the profound melancholy that was
creeping over him, he walked about his cell, forcing his mind to occupy
itself with material objects.

The room which had been allotted to him was very large. It had once
communicated with the apartment adjoining; but the door had been walled
up for a long time. The cement which held the large blocks of stone
together had crumbled away, leaving crevices through which one might
look from one room into the other.

M. d\x92Escorval mechanically applied his eye to one of these interstices.
Perhaps he had a friend for a neighbor, some wretched man who was to
share his fate. He saw no one. He called, first in a whisper, then
louder. No voice responded to his.

\x93If _I_ could only tear down this thin partition,\x94 he thought.

He trembled, then shrugged his shoulders. And if he did, what then? He
would only find himself in another apartment similar to his own, and
opening like his upon a corridor full of guards, whose monotonous tramp
he could plainly hear as they passed to and fro.

What folly to think of escape! He knew that every possible precaution
must have been taken to guard against it.

Yes, he knew this, and yet he could not refrain from examining his
window. Two rows of iron bars protected it. These were placed in such a
way that it was impossible for him to put out his head and see how far
he was above the ground. The height, however, must be considerable,
judging from the extent of the view.

The sun was setting; and through the violet haze the baron could discern
an undulating line of hills, whose culminating point must be the land of
the Reche.

The dark masses of foliage that he saw on the right were probably the
forests of Sairmeuse. On the left, he divined rather than saw, nestling
between the hills, the valley of the Oiselle and Escorval.

Escorval, that lovely retreat where he had known such happiness, where
he had hoped to die the calm and serene death of the just.

And remembering his past felicity, and thinking of his vanished dreams,
his eyes once more filled with tears. But he quickly dried them on
hearing the door of his cell open.

Two soldiers appeared.

One of the men bore a torch, the other, one of those long baskets
divided into compartments which are used in carrying meals to the
officers on guard.

These men were evidently deeply moved, and yet, obeying a sentiment of
instinctive delicacy, they affected a sort of gayety.

\x93Here is your dinner, Monsieur,\x94 said one soldier; \x93it ought to be very
good, for it comes from the cuisine of the commander of the citadel.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval smiled sadly. Some attentions on the part of one\x92s jailer
have a sinister significance. Still, when he seated himself before the
little table which they prepared for him, he found that he was really
hungry.

He ate with a relish, and chatted quite cheerfully with the soldiers.

\x93Always hope for the best, sir,\x94 said one of these worthy fellows. \x93Who
knows? Stranger things have happened!\x94

When the baron finished his repast, he asked for pen, ink, and paper.
They brought what he desired.

He found himself again alone; but his conversation with the soldiers had
been of service to him. His weakness had passed; his _sang-froid_ had
returned; he would now reflect.

He was surprised that he had heard nothing from Mme. d\x92Escorval and from
Maurice.

Could it be that they had been refused access to the prison? No, they
could not be; he could not imagine that there existed men sufficiently
cruel to prevent a doomed man from pressing to his heart, in a last
embrace, his wife and his son.

Yet, how was it that neither the baroness nor Maurice had made an
attempt to see him! Something must have prevented them from doing so.
What could it be?

He imagined the worst misfortunes. He saw his wife writhing in agony,
perhaps dead. He pictured Maurice, wild with grief, upon his knees at
the bedside of his mother.

But they might come yet. He consulted his watch. It marked the hour of
seven.

But he waited in vain. No one came.

He took up his pen, and was about to write, when he heard a bustle in
the corridor outside. The clink of spurs resounded on the flags; he
heard the sharp clink of the rifle as the guard presented arms.

Trembling, the baron sprang up, saying:

\x93They have come at last!\x94

He was mistaken; the footsteps died away in the distance.

\x93A round of inspection!\x94 he murmured.

But at the same moment, two objects thrown through the tiny opening in
the door of his cell fell on the floor in the middle of the room.

M. d\x92Escorval caught them up. Someone had thrown him two files.

His first feeling was one of distrust. He knew that there were jailers
who left no means untried to dishonor their prisoners before delivering
them to the executioner.

Was it a friend, or an enemy, that had given him these instruments of
deliverance and of liberty.

Chanlouineau\x92s words and the look that accompanied them recurred to his
mind, perplexing him still more.

He was standing with knitted brows, turning and returning the fine and
well-tempered files in his hands, when he suddenly perceived upon the
floor a tiny scrap of paper which had, at first, escaped his notice.

He snatched it up, unfolded it, and read:


\x93Your friends are at work. Everything is prepared for your escape. Make
haste and saw the bars of your window. Maurice and his mother embrace
you. Hope, courage!\x94


Beneath these few lines was the letter M.

But the baron did not need this initial to be reassured. He had
recognized Abbe Midon\x92s handwriting.

\x93Ah! he is a true friend,\x94 he murmured.

Then the recollection of his doubts and despair arose in his mind.

\x93This explains why neither my wife nor son came to visit me,\x94 he
thought. \x93And I doubted their energy--and I was complaining of their
neglect!\x94

Intense joy filled his breast; he raised the letter that promised him
life and liberty to his lips, and enthusiastically exclaimed:

\x93To work! to work!\x94

He had chosen the finest of the two files, and was about to attack the
ponderous bars, when he fancied he heard someone open the door of the
next room.

Someone had opened it, certainly. The person closed it again, but did
not lock it.

Then the baron heard someone moving cautiously about. What did all this
mean? Were they incarcerating some new prisoner, or were they stationing
a spy there?

Listening breathlessly, the baron heard a singular sound, whose cause it
was absolutely impossible to explain.

Noiselessly he advanced to the former communicating door, knelt, and
peered through one of the interstices.

The sight that met his eyes amazed him.

A man was standing in a corner of the room. The baron could see the
lower part of the man\x92s body by the light of a large lantern which he
had deposited on the floor at his feet. He was turning around and around
very quickly, by this movement unwinding a long rope which had been
twined around his body as thread is wound about a bobbin.

M. d\x92Escorval rubbed his eyes as if to assure himself that he was
not dreaming. Evidently this rope was intended for him. It was to be
attached to the broken bars.

But how had this man succeeded in gaining admission to this room?
Who could it be that enjoyed such liberty in the prison? He was not a
soldier--or, at least, he did not wear a uniform.

Unfortunately, the highest crevice was in such a place that the visual
ray did not strike the upper part of the man\x92s body; and, despite the
baron\x92s efforts, he was unable to see the face of this friend--he judged
him to be such--whose boldness verged on folly.

Unable to resist his intense curiosity, M. d\x92Escorval was on the point
of rapping on the wall to question him, when the door of the room
occupied by this man, whom the baron already called his saviour, was
impetuously thrown open.

Another man entered, whose face was also outside the baron\x92s range of
vision; and the new-comer, in a tone of astonishment, exclaimed:

\x93Good heavens! what are you doing?\x94

The baron drew back in despair.

\x93All is discovered!\x94 he thought.

The man whom M. d\x92Escorval believed to be his friend did not pause in
his labor of unwinding the rope, and it was in the most tranquil voice
that he responded:

\x93As you see, I am freeing myself from this burden of rope, which I find
extremely uncomfortable. There are at least sixty yards of it, I should
think--and what a bundle it makes! I feared they would discover it under
my cloak.\x94

\x93And what are you going to do with all this rope?\x94 inquired the
new-comer.

\x93I am going to hand it to Baron d\x92Escorval, to whom I have already given
a file. He must make his escape to-night.\x94

So improbable was this scene that the baron could not believe his own
ears.

\x93I cannot be awake; I must be dreaming,\x94 he thought.

The new-comer uttered a terrible oath, and, in an almost threatening
tone, he said:

\x93We will see about that! If you have gone mad, I, thank God! still
possess my reason! I will not permit----\x94

\x93Pardon!\x94 interrupted the other, coldly, \x93you will permit it. This is
merely the result of your own--credulity. When Chanlouineau asked you to
allow him to receive a visit from Mademoiselle Lacheneur, that was the
time you should have said: \x91I will not permit it.\x92 Do you know what the
fellow desired? Simply to give Mademoiselle Lacheneur a letter of mine,
so compromising in its natures that if it ever reaches the hands of a
certain person of my acquaintance, my father and I will be obliged
to reside in London in future. Then farewell to the projects for an
alliance between our two families!\x94

The new-comer heaved a mighty sigh, accompanied by a half-angry,
half-sorrowful exclamation; but the other, without giving him any
opportunity to reply, resumed:

\x93You, yourself, Marquis, would doubtless be compromised. Were you not a
chamberlain during the reign of Bonaparte? Ah, Marquis! how could a man
of your experience, a man so subtle, and penetrating, and acute, allow
himself to be duped by a low, ignorant peasant?\x94

Now M. d\x92Escorval understood. He was not dreaming; it was the Marquis de
Courtornieu and Martial de Sairmeuse who were talking on the other side
of the wall.

This poor M. de Courtornieu had been so entirely crushed by Martial\x92s
revelation that he no longer made any effort to oppose him.

\x93And this terrible letter?\x94 he groaned.

\x93Marie-Anne Lacheneur gave it to Abbe Midon, who came to me and said:
\x91Either the baron will escape, or this letter will be taken to the Duc
de Richelieu.\x92 I voted for the baron\x92s escape, I assure you. The abbe
procured all that was necessary; he met me at a rendezvous which I
appointed in a quiet spot; he coiled all his rope about my body, and
here I am.\x94

\x93Then you think if the baron escapes they will give you back your
letter?\x94

\x93Most assuredly.\x94

\x93Deluded man! As soon as the baron is safe, they will demand the life of
another prisoner, with the same menaces.\x94

\x93By no means.\x94

\x93You will see.\x94

\x93I shall see nothing of the kind, for a very simple reason. I have the
letter now in my pocket. The abbe gave it to me in exchange for my word
of honor.\x94

M. de Courtornieu\x92s exclamation proved that he considered the abbe an
egregious fool.

\x93What!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93You hold the proof, and--But this is madness!
Burn this accursed letter by the flames of this lantern, and let the
baron go where his slumbers will be undisturbed.\x94

Martial\x92s silence betrayed something like stupor.

\x93What! you would do this--you?\x94 he demanded, at last.

\x93Certainly--and without the slightest hesitation.\x94

\x93Ah, well! I cannot say that I congratulate you.\x94

The sneer was so apparent that M. de Courtornieu was sorely tempted
to make an angry response. But he was not a man to yield to his first
impulse--this former chamberlain under the Emperor, now become a _grand
prevot_ under the Restoration.

He reflected. Should he, on account of a sharp word, quarrel with
Martial--with the only suitor who had pleased his daughter? A
rupture--then he would be left without any prospect of a son-in-law!
When would Heaven send him such another? And how furious Mlle. Blanche
would be!

He concluded to swallow the bitter pill; and it was with a paternal
indulgence of manner that he said:

\x93You are young, my dear Martial.\x94

The baron was still kneeling by the partition, his ear glued to the
crevices, holding his breath in an agony of suspense.

\x93You are only twenty, my dear Martial,\x94 pursued the Marquis de
Courtornieu; \x93you possess the ardent enthusiasm and generosity of youth.
Complete your undertaking; I shall interpose no obstacle; but remember
that all may be discovered--and then----\x94

\x93Have no fears, sir,\x94 interrupted the young marquis; \x93I have taken every
precaution. Did you see a single soldier in the corridor, just now? No.
That is because my father has, at my solicitation, assembled all the
officers and guards under pretext of ordering exceptional precautions.
He is talking to them now. This gave me an opportunity to come here
unobserved. No one will see me when I go out. Who, then, will dare
suspect me of having any hand in the baron\x92s escape?\x94

\x93If the baron escapes, justice will demand to know who aided him.\x94

Martial laughed.

\x93If justice seeks to know, she will find a culprit of my providing.
Go now; I have told you all. I had but one person to fear: that was
yourself. A trusty messenger requested you to join me here. You came;
you know all, you have agreed to remain neutral. I am tranquil. The
baron will be safe in Piedmont when the sun rises.\x94

He picked up his lantern, and added, gayly:

\x93But let us go--my father cannot harangue those soldiers forever.\x94

\x93But,\x94 insisted M. de Courtornieu, \x93you have not told me----\x94

\x93I will tell you all, but not here. Come, come!\x94

They went out, locking the door behind them; and then the baron rose
from his knees.

All sorts of contradictory ideas, doubts, and conjectures filled his
mind.

What could this letter have contained? Why had not Chanlouineau used it
to procure his own salvation? Who would have believed that Martial would
be so faithful to a promise wrested from him by threats?

But this was a time for action, not for reflection. The bars were heavy,
and there were two rows of them.

M. d\x92Escorval set to work.

He had supposed that the task would be difficult. It was a thousand
times more so than he had expected; he discovered this almost
immediately.

It was the first time that he had ever worked with a file, and he did
not know how to use it. His progress was despairingly slow.

Nor was that all. Though he worked as cautiously as possible, each
movement of the instrument across the iron produced a harsh, grating
sound that froze his blood with terror. What if someone should overhear
this noise? And it seemed to him impossible for it to escape notice,
since he could plainly distinguish the measured tread of the guards, who
had resumed their watch in the corridor.

So slight was the result of his labors, that at the end of twenty
minutes he experienced a feeling of profound discouragement.

At this rate, it would be impossible for him to sever the first bar
before daybreak, What, then, was the use of spending his time in
fruitless labor? Why mar the dignity of death by the disgrace of an
unsuccessful effort to escape?

He was hesitating when footsteps approached his cell. He hastened to
seat himself at the table.

The door opened and a soldier entered, to whom an officer who did not
cross the threshold remarked:

\x93You have your instructions, Corporal, keep a close watch. If the
prisoner needs anything, call.\x94

M. de Escorval\x92s heart throbbed almost to bursting. What was coming now?

Had M. de Courtornieu\x92s counsels carried the day, or had Martial sent
someone to aid him?

\x93We must not be dawdling here,\x94 said the corporal, as soon as the door
was closed.

M. d\x92Escorval bounded from his chair. This man was a friend. Here was
aid and life.

\x93I am Bavois,\x94 continued the corporal. \x93Someone said to me just now:
\x91A friend of the Emperor is in danger; are you willing to lend him a
helping hand?\x92 I replied: \x91Present,\x92 and here I am!\x94

This certainly was a brave soul. The baron extended his hand, and in a
voice trembling with emotion:

\x93Thanks,\x94 said he; \x93thanks to you who, without knowing me, expose
yourself to the greatest danger for my sake.\x94

Bavois shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

\x93Positively, my old hide is no more precious than yours. If we do not
succeed, they will chop off our heads with the same axe. But we shall
succeed. Now, let us cease talking and proceed to business.\x94

As he spoke he drew from beneath his long overcoat a strong iron crowbar
and a small vial of brandy, and deposited them upon the bed.

He then took the candle and passed it back and forth before the window
five or six times.

\x93What are you doing?\x94 inquired the baron, in suspense.

\x93I am signalling to your friends that everything is progressing
favorably. They are down there waiting for us; and see, now they are
answering.\x94

The baron looked, and three times they saw a little flash of flame like
that produced by the burning of a pinch of gunpowder.

\x93Now,\x94 said the corporal, \x93we are all right. Let us see what progress
you have made with the bars.\x94

\x93I have scarcely begun,\x94 murmured M. d\x92Escorval.

The corporal inspected the work.

\x93You may indeed say that you have made no progress,\x94 said he; \x93but,
never mind, I have been a locksmith, and I know how to handle a file.\x94

Having drawn the cork from the vial of brandy which he had brought, he
fastened the stopper to the end of one of the files, and swathed the
handle of the instrument with a piece of damp linen.

\x93That is what they call putting a _stop_ on the instrument,\x94 he
remarked, by way of explanation.

Then he made an energetic attack on the bars. It at once became evident
that he had not exaggerated his knowledge of the subject, nor the
efficacy of his precautions for deadening the sound. The harsh grating
that had so alarmed the baron was no longer heard, and Bavois,
finding he had nothing more to dread from the keenest ears, now made
preparations to shelter himself from observation.

To cover the opening in the door would arouse suspicion at once--so the
corporal adopted another expedient.

Moving the little table to another part of the room, he placed the light
upon it, in such a position that the window remained entirely in shadow.

Then he ordered the baron to sit down, and handing him a paper, said:

\x93Now read aloud, without stopping for an instant, until you see me cease
work.\x94

By this method they might reasonably hope to deceive the guards outside
in the corridor. Some of them, indeed, did come to the door and look in,
then went away to say to their companions:

\x93We have just taken a look at the prisoner. He is very pale, and his
eyes are glittering feverishly. He is reading aloud to divert his mind.
Corporal Bavois is looking out of the window. It must be dull music for
him.\x94

The baron\x92s voice would also be of advantage in overpowering any
suspicious sound, should there be one.

And while Bavois worked, M. d\x92Escorval read, read, read.

He had completed the perusal of the entire paper, and was about to begin
it again, when the old soldier, leaving the window, motioned him to
stop.

\x93Half the task is completed,\x94 he said, in a whisper. \x93The lower bars are
cut.\x94

\x93Ah! how can I ever repay you for your devotion!\x94 murmured the baron.

\x93Hush! not a word!\x94 interrupted Bavois. \x93If I escape with you, I can
never return here; and I shall not know where to go, for the regiment,
you see, is my only family. Ah, well! if you will give me a home with
you, I shall be content.\x94

Whereupon he swallowed a big draught of brandy, and set to work with
renewed ardor.

The corporal had cut one of the second row of bars, when he was
interrupted by M. d\x92Escorval, who, without discontinuing his reading,
had approached and pulled Bavois\x92s long coat to attract his attention.

He turned quickly.

\x93What is it?\x94

\x93I heard a singular noise.\x94

\x93Where?\x94

\x93In the adjoining room where the ropes are.\x94

Honest Bavois muttered a terrible oath.

\x93Do they intend to betray us? I risked my life, and they promised me
fair play.\x94

He placed his ear against an opening in the partition, and listened for
a long time. Nothing, not the slightest sound.

\x93It must have been some rat that you heard,\x94 he said, at last. \x93Resume
your reading.\x94

And he began his work again. This was the only interruption, and a
little before four o\x92clock everything was ready. The bars were cut, and
the ropes, which had been drawn through an opening in the wall, were
coiled under the window.

The decisive moment had come. Bavois took the counterpane from the bed,
fastened it over the opening in the door, and filled up the key-hole.

\x93Now,\x94 said he, in the same measured tone which he would have used
in instructing his recruits, \x93attention, sir, and obey the word of
command.\x94 Then he calmly explained that the escape would consist of two
distinct operations; the first in gaining the narrow platform at
the base of the tower; the second, in descending to the foot of the
precipitous rock.

The abbe, who understood this, had brought Martial two ropes; the one to
be used in the descent of the precipice being considerably longer than
the other.

\x93I will fasten the shortest rope under your arms, Monsieur, and I will
let you down to the base of the tower. When you have reached it, I will
pass you the longer rope and the crowbar. Do not miss them. If we find
ourselves without them, on that narrow ledge of rock, we shall either
be compelled to deliver ourselves up, or throw ourselves down the
precipice. I shall not be long in joining you. Are you ready?\x94

M. d\x92Escorval lifted his arms, the rope was fastened securely about him,
and he crawled through the window.

From there the height seemed immense. Below, in the barren fields that
surrounded the citadel, eight persons were waiting, silent, anxious,
breathless.

They were Mme. d\x92Escorval and Maurice, Marie-Anne, Abbe Midon, and the
four retired army officers.

There was no moon; but the night was very clear, and they could see the
tower quite plainly.

Soon after four o\x92clock sounded they saw a dark object glide slowly down
the side of the tower--it was the baron. After a little, another form
followed very rapidly--it was Bavois.

Half of the perilous journey was accomplished.

From below, they could see the two figures moving about on the narrow
platform. The corporal and the baron were exerting all their strength to
fix the crowbar securely in a crevice of the rock.

In a moment or two one of the figures stepped from the projecting rock
and glided gently down the side of the precipice.

It could be none other than M. d\x92Escorval. Transported with happiness,
his wife sprang forward with open arms to receive him.

Wretched woman! A terrific cry rent the still night air.

M. d\x92Escorval was falling from a height of fifty feet; he was hurled
down to the foot of the rocky precipice. The rope had parted.

Had it broken naturally?

Maurice, who examined the end of it, exclaimed with horrible
imprecations of hatred and vengeance that they had been betrayed--that
their enemy had arranged to deliver only a dead body into their
hands--that the rope, in short, had been foully tampered with--cut!



CHAPTER XXXI

Chupin had not taken time to sleep, nor scarcely time to drink, since
that unfortunate morning when the Duc de Sairmeuse ordered affixed
to the walls of Montaignac, that decree in which he promised twenty
thousand francs to the person who should deliver up Lacheneur, dead or
alive.

\x93Twenty thousand francs,\x94 Chupin muttered gloomily; \x93twenty sacks with a
hundred pistoles in each! Ah! if I could discover Lacheneur; even if
he were dead and buried a hundred feet under ground, I should gain the
reward.\x94

The appellation of traitor, which he would receive; the shame and
condemnation that would fall upon him and his, did not make him hesitate
for a moment.

He saw but one thing--the reward--the blood-money.

Unfortunately, he had nothing whatever to guide him in his researches;
no clew, however vague.

All that was known in Montaignac was that M. Lacheneur\x92s horse was
killed at the Croix d\x92Arcy.

But no one knew whether Lacheneur himself had been wounded, or whether
he had escaped from the fray uninjured. Had he reached the frontier? or
had he found an asylum in the house of one of his friends?

Chupin was thus hungering for the price of blood, when, on the day
of the trial, as he was returning from the citadel, after making his
deposition, he entered a drinking saloon. While there he heard the name
of Lacheneur uttered in low tones near him.

Two peasants were emptying a bottle of wine, and one of them, an old
man, was telling the other that he had come to Montaignac to give Mlle.
Lacheneur news of her father.

He said that his son-in-law had met the chief conspirator in the
mountains which separate the _arrondissement_ of Montaignac from Savoy.
He even mentioned the exact place of meeting, which was near Saint
Pavin-des-Gottes, a tiny village of only a few houses.

Certainly the worthy man did not think he was committing a dangerous
indiscretion. In his opinion, Lacheneur had, ere this, crossed the
frontier, and was out of danger.

In this he was mistaken.

The frontier bordering on Savoy was guarded by soldiers, who had
received orders to allow none of the conspirators to pass.

The passage of the frontier, then, presented many great difficulties,
and even if a man succeeded in effecting it, he might be arrested and
imprisoned on the other side, until the formalities of extradition had
been complied with.

Chupin saw his advantage, and instantly decided on his course.

He knew that he had not a moment to lose. He threw a coin down upon the
counter, and without waiting for his change, rushed back to the citadel,
and asked the sergeant at the gate for pen and paper.

The old rascal generally wrote slowly and painfully; to-day it took him
but a moment to trace these lines:


\x93I know Lacheneur\x92s retreat, and beg monseigneur to order some mounted
soldiers to accompany me, in order to capture him. Chupin.\x94


This note was given to one of the guards, with a request to take it to
the Duc de Sairmeuse, who was presiding over the military commission.

Five minutes later, the soldier reappeared with the same note.

Upon the margin the duke had written an order, placing at Chupin\x92s
disposal a lieutenant and eight men chosen from the Montaignac
chasseurs, who could be relied upon, and who were not suspected (as were
the other troops) of sympathizing with the rebels.

Chupin also requested a horse for his own use, and this was accorded
him. The duke had just received this note when, with a triumphant
air, he abruptly entered the room where Marie-Anne and his son were
negotiating for the release of Baron d\x92Escorval.

It was because he believed in the truth of the rather hazardous
assertion made by his spy that he exclaimed, upon the threshold:

\x93Upon my word! it must be confessed that this Chupin is an incomparable
huntsman! Thanks to him----\x94

Then he saw Mlle. Lacheneur, and suddenly checked himself.

Unfortunately, neither Martial nor Marie-Anne were in a state of mind to
notice this remark and its interruption.

Had he been questioned, the duke would probably have allowed the truth
to escape him, and M. Lacheneur might have been saved.

But Lacheneur was one of those unfortunate beings who seem to be pursued
by an evil destiny which they can never escape.

Buried beneath his horse, M. Lacheneur had lost consciousness.

When he regained his senses, restored by the fresh morning air, the
place was silent and deserted. Not far from him, he saw two dead bodies
which had not yet been removed.

It was a terrible moment, and in the depth of his soul he cursed death,
which had refused to heed his entreaties. Had he been armed, doubtless,
he would have ended by suicide, the most cruel mental torture which man
was ever forced to endure--but he had no weapon.

He was obliged to accept the chastisement of life.

Perhaps, too, the voice of honor whispered that it was cowardice to
strive to escape the responsibility of one\x92s acts by death.

At last, he endeavored to draw himself out from beneath the body of his
horse.

This proved to be no easy matter, as his foot was still in the stirrup,
and his limbs were so badly cramped that he could scarcely move them.
He finally succeeded in freeing himself, however, and, on examination,
discovered that he, who it would seem ought to have been killed ten
times over, had only one hurt--a bayonet-wound in the leg, extending
from the ankle almost to the knee.

Such a wound, of course, caused him not a little suffering, and he was
trying to bandage it with his handkerchief, when he heard the sound of
approaching footsteps.

He had no time for reflection; he sprang into the forest that lies to
the left of the Croix d\x92Arcy.

The troops were returning to Montaignac after pursuing the rebels for
more than three miles. There were about two hundred soldiers, and they
were bringing back, as prisoners, about twenty peasants.

Hidden by a great oak scarcely fifteen paces from the road, Lacheneur
recognized several of the prisoners in the gray light of dawn. It
was only by the merest chance that he escaped discovery; and he fully
realized how difficult it would be for him to gain the frontier without
falling into the hands of the detachment of soldiery, who were doubtless
scouring the country in every direction.

Still he did not despair.

The mountains lay only two leagues away; and he firmly believed that he
could successfully elude his pursuers as soon as he gained the shelter
of the hills.

He began his journey courageously.

Alas! he had not realized how exhausted he had become from the excessive
labor and excitement of the past few days, and by the loss of blood from
his wound, which he could not stanch.

He tore up a pole in one of the vineyards to serve as a staff, and
dragged himself along, keeping in the shelter of the woods as much as
possible, and creeping along beside the hedges and in the ditches when
he was obliged to traverse an open space.

To the great physical suffering, and the most cruel mental anguish, was
now added an agony that momentarily increased--hunger.

He had eaten nothing for thirty hours, and he felt terribly weak from
lack of nourishment. This torture soon became so intolerable that he was
willing to brave anything to appease it.

At last he perceived the roofs of a tiny hamlet. He decided to enter it
and ask for food. He was on the outskirts of the village, when he heard
the rolling of a drum. Instinctively he hid behind a wall. But it was
only a town-crier beating his drum to call the people together.

And soon a voice rose so clear and penetrating that each word it uttered
fell distinctly on Lacheneur\x92s ears.

It said:

\x93This is to inform you that the authorities of Montaignac promise to
give a reward of twenty thousand francs--two thousand pistoles, you
understand--to him who will deliver up the man known as Lacheneur, dead
or alive. Dead or alive, you understand. If he is dead, the compensation
will be the same; twenty thousand francs! It will be paid in gold.\x94

With a bound, Lacheneur had risen, wild with despair and horror. Though
he had believed himself utterly exhausted, he found superhuman strength
to flee.

A price had been set upon his head. This frightful thought awakened in
his breast the frenzy that renders a hunted wild beast so dangerous.

In all the villages around him he fancied he could hear the rolling of
drums, and the voice of the criers proclaiming this infamous edict.

Go where he would now, he was a tempting bait offered to treason and
cupidity. In what human creature could he confide? Under what roof could
he ask shelter?

And even if he were dead, he would still be worth a fortune.

Though he died from lack of nourishment and exhaustion under a bush by
the wayside, his emaciated body would still be worth twenty thousand
francs.

And the man who found his corpse would not give it burial. He would
place it on his cart and bear it to Montaignac. He would go to the
authorities and say: \x93Here is Lacheneur\x92s body--give me the reward!\x94

How long and by what paths he pursued his flight, he could not tell.

But several hours after, as he traversed the wooded hills of Charves,
he saw two men, who sprang up and fled at his approach. In a terrible
voice, he called after them:

\x93Eh! you men! do each of you desire a thousand pistoles? I am
Lacheneur.\x94

They paused when they recognized him, and Lacheneur saw that they were
two of his followers. They were well-to-do farmers, and it had been very
difficult to induce them to take part in the revolt.

These men had part of a loaf of bread and a little brandy. They gave
both to the famished man.

They sat down beside him on the grass, and while he was eating they
related their misfortunes. Their connection with the conspiracy had been
discovered; their houses were full of soldiers, who were hunting for
them, but they hoped to reach Italy by the aid of a guide who was
waiting for them at an appointed place.

Lacheneur extended his hand to them.

\x93Then I am saved,\x94 said he. \x93Weak and wounded as I am, I should perish
if I were left alone.\x94

But the two farmers did not accept the hand he offered.

\x93We should leave you,\x94 said the younger man, gloomily, \x93for you are the
cause of our misfortunes. You deceived us, Monsieur Lacheneur.\x94

He dared not protest, so just was the reproach.

\x93Nonsense! let him come all the same,\x94 said the other, with a peculiar
glance at his companion.

So they walked on, and that same evening, after nine hours of travelling
on the mountains, they crossed the frontier.

But this long journey was not made without bitter reproaches, and even
more bitter recriminations.

Closely questioned by his companions, Lacheneur, exhausted both in mind
and body, finally admitted the insincerity of the promises with which
he had inflamed the zeal of his followers. He acknowledged that he had
spread the report that Marie-Louise and the young King of Rome were
concealed in Montaignac, and that this report was a gross falsehood. He
confessed that he had given the signal for the revolt without any chance
of success, and without means of action, leaving everything to chance.
In short, he confessed that nothing was real save his hatred, his
implacable hatred of the Sairmeuse family.

A dozen times, at least, during this terrible avowal, the peasants who
accompanied him were on the point of hurling him down the precipices
upon whose verge they were walking.

\x93So it was to gratify his own spite,\x94 they thought, quivering with rage,
\x93that he sets everybody to fighting and killing one another--that he
ruins us, and drives us into exile. We will see.\x94

The fugitives went to the nearest house after crossing the frontier.

It was a lonely inn, about a league from the little village of
Saint-Jean-de-Coche, and was kept by a man named Balstain.

They rapped, in spite of the lateness of the hour--it was past midnight.
They were admitted, and they ordered supper.

But Lacheneur, weak from loss of blood, and exhausted by his long tramp,
declared that he would eat no supper.

He threw himself upon a bed in an adjoining room, and was soon asleep.

This was the first time since their meeting with Lacheneur that his
companions had found an opportunity to talk together in private.

The same idea had occurred to both of them.

They believed that by delivering up Lacheneur to the authorities, they
might obtain pardon for themselves.

Neither of these men would have consented to receive a single sou of the
money promised to the betrayer; but to exchange their life and liberty
for the life and liberty of Lacheneur did not seem to them a culpable
act, under the circumstances.

\x93For did he not deceive us?\x94 they said to themselves.

They decided, at last, that as soon as they had finished their supper,
they would go to Saint-Jean-de-Coche and inform the Piedmontese guards.

But they reckoned without their host.

They had spoken loud enough to be overheard by Balstain, the innkeeper,
who had learned, during the day, of the magnificent reward which had
been promised to Lacheneur\x92s captor.

When he heard the name of the guest who was sleeping quietly under his
roof, a thirst for gold seized him. He whispered a word to his wife,
then escaped through the window to run and summon the gendarmes.

He had been gone half an hour before the peasants left the house; for
to muster up courage for the act they were about to commit they had been
obliged to drink heavily.

They closed the door so violently on going out that Lacheneur was
awakened by the noise. He sprang up, and came out into the adjoining
room.

The wife of the innkeeper was there alone.

\x93Where are my friends?\x94 he asked, anxiously. \x93Where is your husband?\x94

Moved by sympathy, the woman tried to falter some excuse, but finding
none, she threw herself at his feet, crying:

\x93Fly, Monsieur, save yourself--you are betrayed!\x94

Lacheneur rushed back into the other room, seeking a weapon with which
he could defend himself, an issue through which he could flee!

He had thought that they might abandon him, but betray him--no, never!

\x93Who has sold me?\x94 he asked, in a strained, unnatural voice.

\x93Your friends--the two men who supped there at that table.\x94

\x93Impossible, Madame, impossible!\x94

He did not suspect the designs and hopes of his former comrades; and he
could not, he would not believe them capable of ignobly betraying him
for gold.

\x93But,\x94 pleaded the innkeeper\x92s wife, still on her knees before him,
\x93they have just started for Saint-Jean-de-Coche, where they will
denounce you. I heard them say that your life would purchase theirs.
They have certainly gone to summon the gendarmes! Is this not enough, or
am I obliged to endure the shame of confessing that my own husband, too,
has gone to betray you.\x94

Lacheneur understood it all now! And this supreme misfortune, after all
the misery he had endured, broke him down completely.

Great tears gushed from his eyes, and sinking down into a chair, he
murmured:

\x93Let them come; I am ready for them. No, I will not stir from here. My
miserable life is not worth such a struggle.\x94

But the wife of the traitor rose, and grasping the unfortunate man\x92s
clothing, she shook him, she dragged him to the door--she would have
carried him had she possessed sufficient strength.

\x93You shall not remain here,\x94 said she, with extraordinary vehemence.
\x93Fly, save yourself. You shall not be taken here; it will bring
misfortune upon our house!\x94

Bewildered by these violent adjurations, and urged on by the instinct of
self-preservation, so powerful in every human heart, Lacheneur stepped
out upon the threshold.

The night was very dark, and a chilling fog intensified the gloom.

\x93See, Madame,\x94 said the poor fugitive gently, \x93how can I find my way
through these mountains, which I do not know, and where there are no
roads--where the foot-paths are scarcely discernible.\x94

With a quick movement Balstain\x92s wife pushed Lacheneur out, and turning
him as one does a blind man to set him on the right track:

\x93Walk straight before you,\x94 said she, \x93always against the wind. God will
protect you. Farewell!\x94

He turned to ask further directions, but she had re-entered the house
and closed the door.

Upheld by a feverish excitement, he walked for long hours. He soon lost
his way, and wandered on through the mountains, benumbed with cold,
stumbling over rocks, sometimes falling.

Why he was not precipitated to the depths of some chasm it is difficult
to explain.

He lost all idea of his whereabouts, and the sun was high in the heavens
when he at last met a human being of whom he could inquire his way.

It was a little shepherd-boy, in pursuit of some stray goats, whom he
encountered; but the lad, frightened by the wild and haggard appearance
of the stranger, at first refused to approach.

The offer of a piece of money induced him to come a little nearer.

\x93You are on the summit of the mountain, Monsieur,\x94 said he; \x93and exactly
on the boundary line. Here is France; there is Savoy.\x94

\x93And what is the nearest village?\x94

\x93On the Savoyard side, Saint-Jean-de-Coche; on the French side,
Saint-Pavin.\x94

So after all his terrible exertions, Lacheneur was not a league from the
inn.

Appalled by this discovery, he remained for a moment undecided which
course to pursue.

What did it matter? Why should the doomed hesitate? Do not all roads
lead to the abyss into which they must sink?

He remembered the gendarmes that the innkeeper\x92s wife had warned him
against, and slowly and with great difficulty descended the steep
mountainside leading down to France.

He was near Saint-Pavin, when, before an isolated cottage, he saw a
pretty peasant woman spinning in the sunshine.

He dragged himself toward her, and in weak tones begged her hospitality.

On seeing this man, whose face was ghastly pale, and whose clothing
was torn and soiled with dust and blood, the woman rose, evidently more
surprised than alarmed.

She looked at him closely, and saw that his age, his stature, and his
features corresponded with the descriptions of Lacheneur, which had been
scattered thickly about the frontier.

\x93You are the conspirator they are hunting for, and for whom they promise
a reward of twenty thousand francs,\x94 she said.

Lacheneur trembled.

\x93Yes, I am Lacheneur,\x94 he replied, after a moment\x92s hesitation; \x93I
am Lacheneur. Betray me, if you will, but in charity\x92s name give me a
morsel of bread, and allow me to rest a little.\x94

At the words \x93betray me,\x94 the young woman made a gesture of horror and
disgust.

\x93We betray you, sir!\x94 said she. \x93Ah! you do not know the Antoines! Enter
our house, and lie down upon the bed while I prepare some refreshments
for you. When my husband comes home, we will see what can be done.\x94

It was nearly sunset when the master of the house, a robust mountaineer,
with a frank face, returned.

On beholding the stranger seated at his fireside he turned frightfully
pale.

\x93Unfortunate woman!\x94 he whispered to his wife, \x93do you not know that any
man who shelters this fugitive will be shot, and his house levelled to
the ground?\x94

Lacheneur rose with a shudder.

He had not known this. He knew the infamous reward which had been
promised to his betrayer; but he had not known the danger his presence
brought upon these worthy people. \x93I will go at once, sir,\x94 said he,
gently.

But the peasant placed his large hand kindly upon his guest\x92s shoulder,
and forced him to resume his seat.

\x93It was not to drive you away that I said what I did,\x94 he remarked. \x93You
are at home, and you shall remain here until I can find some means of
insuring your safety.\x94

The pretty peasant woman flung her arms about her husband\x92s neck, and in
tones of the most ardent affection exclaimed: \x93Ah! you are a noble man,
Antoine.\x94

He smiled, embraced her tenderly, then, pointing to the open door:

\x93Watch!\x94 he said. \x93I feel it my duty to tell you, sir, that it will
not be easy to save you,\x94 resumed the honest peasant. \x93The promises of
reward have set all evil-minded people on the alert. They know that you
are in the neighborhood. A rascally innkeeper has crossed the frontier
for the express purpose of betraying your whereabouts to the French
gendarmes.\x94

\x93Balstain?\x94

\x93Yes, Balstain; and he is hunting for you now. That is not all. As I
passed through Saint-Pavin, on my return, I saw eight mounted soldiers,
guided by a peasant, also on horseback. They declared that they knew
you were concealed in the village, and they were going to search every
house.\x94

These soldiers were none other than the Montaignac chasseurs, placed at
Chupin\x92s disposal by the Duc de Sairmeuse.

It was indeed as Antoine had said.

The task was certainly not at all to their taste, but they were
closely watched by the lieutenant in command, who hoped to receive some
substantial reward if the expedition was crowned with success. Antoine,
meanwhile, continued his exposition of his hopes and fears.

\x93Wounded and exhausted as you are,\x94 he was saying to Lacheneur, \x93you
will be in no condition to make a long march in less than a fortnight.
Until then you must conceal yourself. Fortunately, I know a safe retreat
in the mountain, not far from here. I will take you there to-night, with
provisions enough to last you for a week.\x94

A stifled cry from his wife interrupted him.

He turned, and saw her fall almost fainting against the door, her face
whiter than her coif, her finger pointing to the path that led from
Saint-Pavin to their cottage.

\x93The soldiers--they are coming!\x94 she gasped.

Quicker than thought, Lacheneur and the peasant sprang to the door to
see for themselves.

The young woman had spoken the truth.

The Montaignac chasseurs were climbing the steep foot-path slowly, but
surely.

Chupin walked in advance, urging them on with voice, gesture and
example.

An imprudent word from the little shepherd-boy, whom M. Lacheneur had
questioned, had decided the fugitive\x92s fate.

On returning to Saint-Pavin, and hearing that the soldiers were
searching for the chief conspirator, the lad chanced to say:

\x93I met a man just now on the mountain who asked me where he was; and I
saw him go down the footpath leading to Antoine\x92s cottage.\x94

And in proof of his words, he proudly displayed the piece of silver
which Lacheneur had given him.

\x93One more bold stroke and we have our man!\x94 exclaimed Chupin. \x93Come,
comrades!\x94

And now the party were not more than two hundred feet from the house in
which the proscribed man had found an asylum.

Antoine and his wife looked at each other with anguish in their eyes.

They saw that their visitor was lost.

\x93We must save him! we must save him!\x94 cried the woman.

\x93Yes, we must save him!\x94 repeated the husband, gloomily. \x93They shall
kill me before I betray a man in my own house.\x94

\x93If he would hide in the stable behind the bundles of straw----\x94

\x93They would find him! These soldiers are worse than tigers, and the
wretch who leads them on must have the keen scent of a blood-hound.\x94

He turned quickly to Lacheneur.

\x93Come, sir,\x94 said he, \x93let us leap from the back window and flee to the
mountains. They will see us, but no matter! These horsemen are always
clumsy runners. If you cannot run, I will carry you. They will probably
fire at us, but they will miss us.\x94

\x93And your wife?\x94 asked Lacheneur.

The honest mountaineer shuddered; but he said:

\x93She will join us.\x94

Lacheneur took his friend\x92s hand and pressed it tenderly.

\x93Ah! you are noble people,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93and God will reward you for
your kindness to a poor fugitive. But you have done too much already.
I should be the basest of men if I consented to uselessly expose you to
danger. I can bear this life no longer; I have no wish to escape.\x94

He drew the sobbing woman to him and kissed her upon the forehead.

\x93I have a daughter, young and beautiful like yourself, as generous
and proud. Poor Marie-Anne! And I have pitilessly sacrificed her to my
hatred! I should not complain; come what may, I have deserved it.\x94

The sound of approaching footsteps became more and more distinct.
Lacheneur straightened himself up, and seemed to be gathering all his
energy for the decisive moment.

\x93Remain inside,\x94 he said, imperiously, to Antoine and his wife. \x93I am
going out; they must not arrest me in your house.\x94

As he spoke, he stepped outside the door, with a firm tread, a dauntless
brow, a calm and assured mien.

The soldiers were but a few feet from him.

\x93Halt!\x94 he exclaimed, in a strong, ringing voice. \x93It is Lacheneur you
are seeking, is it not? I am he! I surrender myself.\x94

An unbroken stillness reigned. Not a sound, not a word replied.

The spectre of death that hovered above his head imparted such an
imposing majesty to his person that the soldiers paused, silent and
awed.

But there was one man who was terrified by this resonant voice, and that
was Chupin.

Remorse filled his cowardly heart, and pale and trembling, he tried to
hide behind the soldiers.

Lacheneur walked straight to him.

\x93So it is you who have sold my life, Chupin?\x94 he said, scornfully. \x93You
have not forgotten, I see plainly, how often Marie-Anne has filled your
empty larder--and now you take your revenge.\x94

The miserable wretch seemed crushed. Now that he had done this foul
deed, he knew what treason really was.

\x93So be it,\x94 said M. Lacheneur. \x93You will receive the price of my blood;
but it will not bring you good fortune--traitor!\x94

But Chupin, indignant with himself for his weakness, was already trying
to shake off the fear that mastered him.

\x93You have conspired against the King,\x94 he stammered. \x93I have done only
my duty in denouncing you.\x94

And turning to the soldiers, he said:

\x93As for you, comrades, you may rest assured that the Duc de Sairmeuse
will testify his gratitude for your services.\x94

They had bound Lacheneur\x92s hands, and the party were about to
descend the mountain, when a man appeared, bareheaded, covered with
perspiration, and panting for breath.

Twilight was falling, but M. Lacheneur recognized Balstain.

\x93Ah! you have him!\x94 he exclaimed, as soon as he was within hearing
distance, and pointing to the prisoner. \x93The reward belongs to me--I
denounced him first on the other side of the frontier. The gendarmes at
Saint-Jean-de-Coche will testify to that. He would have been captured
last night in my house, but he ran away in my absence; and I have been
following the bandit for sixteen hours.\x94

He spoke with extraordinary vehemence and volubility, beside himself
with fear lest he was about to lose his reward, and lest his treason
would bring him nothing save disgrace and obloquy.

\x93If you have any right to the reward, you must prove it before the
proper authorities,\x94 said the officer in command.

\x93If I have any right!\x94 interrupted Balstain; \x93who contests my right,
then?\x94

He looked threateningly around, and his eyes fell on Chupin.

\x93Is it you?\x94 he demanded. \x93Do you dare to assert that you discovered the
brigand?\x94

\x93Yes, it was I who discovered his hiding-place.\x94

\x93You lie, impostor!\x94 vociferated the innkeeper; \x93you lie!\x94

The soldiers did not move. This scene repaid them for the disgust they
had experienced during the afternoon.

\x93But,\x94 continued Balstain, \x93what else could one expect from a vile knave
like Chupin? Everyone knows that he has been obliged to flee from France
a dozen times on account of his crimes. Where did you take refuge when
you crossed the frontier, Chupin? In my house, in the inn kept by honest
Balstain. You were fed and protected there. How many times have I saved
you from the gendarmes and from the galleys? More times than I can
count. And to reward me, you steal my property; you steal this man who
was mine----\x94

\x93He is insane!\x94 said the terrified Chupin, \x93he is mad!\x94

Then the innkeeper changed his tactics.

\x93At least you will be reasonable,\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Let us see, Chupin,
what you will do for an old friend? Divide, will you not? No, you
say no? What will you give me, comrade? A third? Is that too much? A
quarter, then----\x94

Chupin felt that all the soldiers were enjoying his terrible
humiliation. They were sneering at him, and only an instant before they
had avoided coming in contact with him with evident horror.

Transported with anger, he pushed Balstain violently aside, crying to
the soldiers:

\x93Come--are we going to spend the night here?\x94

An implacable hatred gleamed in the eye of the Piedmontese.

He drew his knife from his pocket, and making the sign of the cross in
the air:

\x93Saint-Jean-de-Coche,\x94 he exclaimed, in a ringing voice, \x93and you, Holy
Virgin, hear my vow. May my soul burn in hell if I ever use a knife at
my repasts until I have plunged this, which I now hold, into the heart
of the scoundrel who has defrauded me!\x94

Having said this, he disappeared in the woods, and the soldiers took up
their line of march.

But Chupin was no longer the same. All his accustomed impudence
had fled. He walked on with bowed head, a prey to the most sinister
presentiments.

He felt assured that an oath like that of Balstain\x92s, and uttered by
such a man, was equivalent to a death-warrant, or at least to a speedy
prospect of assassination.

This thought tormented him so much that he would not allow the
detachment to spend the night at Saint-Pavin, as had been agreed upon.
He was impatient to leave the neighborhood.

After supper Chupin sent for a cart; the prisoner, securely bound, was
placed in it, and the party started for Montaignac.

The great bell was striking two when Lacheneur was brought into the
citadel.

At that very moment M. d\x92Escorval and Corporal Bavois were making their
preparations for escape.



CHAPTER XXXII

Alone in his cell, Chanlouineau, after Marie-Anne\x92s departure, abandoned
himself to the most frightful despair.

He had just given more than life to the woman he loved so fervently.

For had he not, in the hope of obtaining an interview with her, perilled
his honor by simulating the most ignoble fear? While doing so, he
thought only of the success of his ruse. But now he knew only too well
what those who had witnessed his apparent weakness would say of him.

\x93This Chanlouineau is only a miserable coward after all,\x94 he fancied he
could hear them saying among themselves. \x93We have seen him on his knees,
begging for mercy, and promising to betray his accomplices.\x94

The thought that his memory would be tarnished with charges of cowardice
and treason drove him nearly mad.

He actually longed for death, since it would give him an opportunity to
retrieve his honor.

\x93They shall see, then,\x94 he cried, wrathfully, \x93if I turn pale and
tremble before the soldiers.\x94

He was in this state of mind when the door opened to admit the Marquis
de Courtornieu, who, after seeing Mlle. Lacheneur leave the prison, came
to Chanlouineau to ascertain the result of her visit.

\x93Well, my good fellow--\x94 began the marquis, in his most condescending
manner.

\x93Leave!\x94 cried Chanlouineau, in a fury of passion. \x93Leave, or----\x94

Without waiting to hear the end of the sentence the marquis made his
escape, greatly surprised and not a little dismayed by this sudden
change.

\x93What a dangerous and blood-thirsty rascal!\x94 he remarked to the guard.
\x93It would, perhaps, be advisable to put him in a strait-jacket!\x94

Ah! there was no necessity for that. The heroic peasant had thrown
himself upon his straw pallet, oppressed with feverish anxiety.

Would Marie-Anne know how to make the best use of the weapon which he
had placed in her hands?

If he hoped so, it was because she would have as her counsellor and
guide a man in whose judgment he had the most implicit confidence--Abbe
Midon.

\x93Martial will be afraid of the letter,\x94 he said to himself, again and
again; \x93certainly he will be afraid.\x94

In this Chanlouineau was entirely mistaken. His discernment and
intelligence were certainly above his station, but he was not
sufficiently acute to read a character like that of the young Marquis de
Sairmeuse.

The document which he had written in a moment of _abandon_ and
blindness, was almost without influence in determining his course.

He pretended to be greatly alarmed, in order to frighten his father; but
in reality he considered the threat puerile.

Marie-Anne would have obtained the same assistance from him if she had
not possessed this letter.

Other influences had decided him: the difficulties and dangers of the
undertaking, the risks to be incurred, the prejudices to be braved.

To save the life of Baron d\x92Escorval--an enemy--to wrest him from the
execution on the very steps of the scaffold, as it were, seemed to him
a delightful enterprise. And to assure the happiness of the woman he
adored by saving the life of an enemy, even after his suit had been
refused, seemed a chivalrous act worthy of him.

Besides, what an opportunity it afforded for the exercise of his
_sang-froid_, his diplomatic talent, and the _finesse_ upon which he
prided himself!

It was necessary to make his father his dupe. That was an easy task.

It was necessary to impose upon the credulity of the Marquis de
Courtornieu. This was a difficult task, yet he succeeded.

But poor Chanlouineau could not conceive of such contradictions, and he
was consumed with anxiety.

Willingly would he have consented to be put to the torture before
receiving his death-blow, if he might have been allowed to follow
Marie-Anne in her undertakings.

What was she doing? How could he ascertain?

A dozen times during the evening he called his guards, under every
possible pretext, and tried to compel them to talk with him. He knew
very well that these men could be no better informed on the subject than
he was himself, that he could place no confidence in their reports--but
that made no difference.

The drums beat for the evening roll-call, then for the extinguishment of
lights--after that, silence.

Standing at the window of his cell, Chanlouineau concentrated all his
faculties in a superhuman effort of attention.

It seemed to him if the baron regained his liberty, he would be warned
of it by some sign. Those whom he had saved owed him, he thought, this
slight token of gratitude.

A little after two o\x92clock he heard sounds that made him tremble. There
was a great bustle in the corridors; guards running to and fro, and
calling each other, a rattling of keys, and the opening and shutting of
doors.

The passage was suddenly illuminated; he looked out, and by the
uncertain light of the lanterns, he thought he saw Lacheneur, as pale as
a ghost, pass the cell, led by some soldiers.

Lacheneur! Could this be possible? He doubted his own eyesight. He
thought it must be a vision born of the fever burning in his brain.

Later, he heard a despairing cry. But was it surprising that one should
hear such a sound in a prison, where twenty men condemned to death were
suffering the agony of that terrible night which precedes the day of
execution.

At last, the gray light of early dawn came creeping in through the
prison-bars. Chanlouineau was in despair.

\x93The letter was useless!\x94 he murmured.

Poor generous peasant! His heart would have leaped for joy could he have
cast a glance on the courtyard of the citadel.

More than an hour had passed after the sounding of the _reveille_, when
two countrywomen, who were carrying their butter and eggs to market,
presented themselves at the gate of the fortress.

They declared that while passing through the fields at the base of the
precipitous cliff upon which the citadel was built, they had discovered
a rope dangling from the side of the rock. A rope! Then one of the
condemned prisoners must have escaped. The guards hastened to Baron
d\x92Escorval\x92s room--it was empty.

The baron had fled, taking with him the man who had been left to guard
him--Corporal Bavois, of the grenadiers.

The amazement was as intense as the indignation, but the fright was
still greater.

There was not a single officer who did not tremble on thinking of
his responsibility; not one who did not see his hopes of advancement
blighted forever.

What should they say to the formidable Duc de Sairmeuse and to the
Marquis de Courtornieu, who, in spite of his calm and polished manners,
was almost as much to be feared. It was necessary to warn them, however,
and a sergeant was despatched with the news.

Soon they made their appearance, accompanied by Martial; all frightfully
angry.

M. de Sairmeuse especially seemed beside himself.

He swore at everybody, accused everybody, threatened everybody.

He began by consigning all the keepers and guards to prison; he even
talked of demanding the dismissal of all the officers.

\x93As for that miserable Bavois,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93as for that cowardly
deserter, he shall be shot as soon as we capture him, and we will
capture him, you may depend upon it!\x94

They had hoped to appease the duke\x92s wrath a little, by informing him of
Lacheneur\x92s arrest; but he knew this already, for Chupin had ventured to
awake him in the middle of the night to tell him the great news.

The baron\x92s escape afforded the duke an opportunity to exalt Chupin\x92s
merits.

\x93The man who has discovered Lacheneur will know how to find this traitor
d\x92Escorval,\x94 he remarked.

M. de Courtornieu, who was more calm, \x93took measures for the restoration
of a great culprit to the hand of justice,\x94 as he said.

He sent couriers in every direction, ordering them to make close
inquiries throughout the neighborhood.

His commands were brief, but to the point; they were to watch the
frontier, to submit all travellers to a rigorous examination, to search
the house, and to sow the description of d\x92Escorval broadcast through
the land.

But first of all he ordered the arrest both of Abbe Midon--the Cure of
Sairmeuse, and of the son of Baron d\x92Escorval.

Among the officers present there was one, an old lieutenant, medalled
and decorated, who had been deeply wounded by imputations uttered by the
Duc de Sairmeuse.

He stepped forward with a gloomy air, and said that these measures were
doubtless all very well, but the most pressing and urgent duty was to
institute an investigation at once, which, while acquainting them with
the method of escape, would probably reveal the accomplices.

On hearing the word \x93investigation,\x94 neither the Duc de Sairmeuse nor
the Marquis de Courtornieu could repress a slight shudder.

They could not ignore the fact that their reputations were at stake, and
that the merest trifle might disclose the truth. A precaution neglected,
the most insignificant detail, a word, a gesture might ruin their
ambitious hopes forever.

They trembled to think that this officer might be a man of unusual
shrewdness, who had suspected their complicity, and was impatient to
verify his presumptions.

No, the old lieutenant had not the slightest suspicion. He had spoken
on the impulse of the moment, merely to give vent to his displeasure. He
was not even keen enough to remark the rapid glance interchanged between
the marquis and the duke.

Martial noticed this look, however, and with a politeness too studied
not to be ridicule, he addressed the lieutenant:

\x93Yes, we must institute an investigation; that suggestion is as shrewd
as it is opportune,\x94 he remarked.

The old officer turned away with a muttered oath.

\x93That coxcomb is poking fun at me,\x94 he thought; \x93and he and his father
and that prig deserve--but what is one to do?\x94

In spite of his bold remark, Martial felt that he must not incur the
slightest risk.

To whom must the charge of this investigation be intrusted? To the duke
and to the marquis, of course, since they were the only persons who
would know just how much to conceal, and just how much to disclose.

They began their task immediately, with an _empressement_ which could
not fail to silence all doubts, in case any existed in the minds of
their subordinates.

But who could be suspicious? The success of the plot had been all the
more certain from the fact that the baron\x92s escape seemed likely to
injure the interests of the very parties who had favored it.

Martial thought he knew the details of the escape as exactly as the
fugitives themselves. He had been the author, even if they had been the
actors, of the drama of the preceding night.

He was soon obliged to admit that he was mistaken in this opinion.

The investigation revealed facts which seemed incomprehensible to him.

It was evident that the Baron d\x92Escorval and Corporal Bavois had been
compelled to accomplish two successive descents.

To do this the prisoners had realized (since they had succeeded) the
necessity of having two ropes. Martial had provided them; the prisoners
must have used them. And yet only one rope could be found--the one which
the peasant woman had perceived hanging from the rocky platform, where
it was made fast to an iron crowbar.

From the window to the platform, there was no rope.

\x93This is most extraordinary!\x94 murmured Martial, thoughtfully.

\x93Very strange!\x94 approved M. de Courtornieu.

\x93How the devil could they have reached the base of the tower?\x94

\x93That is what I cannot understand.\x94

But Martial found another cause for surprise.

On examining the rope that remained--the one which had been used in
making the second descent--he discovered that it was not a single piece.
Two pieces had been knotted together. The longest piece had evidently
been too short.

How did this happen? Could the duke have made a mistake in the height of
the cliff? or had the abbe measured the rope incorrectly?

But Martial had also measured it with his eye, and it had seemed to
him that the rope was much longer, fully a third longer, than it now
appeared.

\x93There must have been some accident,\x94 he remarked to his father and to
the marquis; \x93but what?\x94

\x93Well, what does it matter?\x94 replied the marquis, \x93you have the
compromising letter, have you not?\x94

But Martial\x92s was one of those minds that never rest when confronted by
an unsolved problem.

He insisted on going to inspect the rocks at the foot of the precipice.

There they discovered large spots of blood.

\x93One of the fugitives must have fallen,\x94 said Martial, quickly, \x93and was
dangerously wounded!\x94

\x93Upon my word!\x94 exclaimed the Duc de Sairmeuse, \x93if Baron d\x92Escorval has
broken his neck, I shall be delighted!\x94

Martial\x92s face turned crimson, and he looked searchingly at his father.

\x93I suppose, Monsieur, that you do not mean one word of what you are
saying,\x94 Martial said, coldly. \x93We pledged ourselves, upon the honor of
our name, to save Baron d\x92Escorval. If he has been killed it will be a
great misfortune to us, Monsieur, a great misfortune.\x94

When his son addressed him in his haughty and freezing tone the duke
never knew how to reply. He was indignant, but his son\x92s was the
stronger nature.

\x93Nonsense!\x94 exclaimed M. de Courtornieu; \x93if the rascal had merely been
wounded we should have known it.\x94

Such was the opinion of Chupin, who had been sent for by the duke, and
who had just made his appearance.

But the old scoundrel, who was usually so loquacious and so officious,
replied briefly; and, strange to say, did not offer his services.

Of his imperturbable assurance, of his wonted impudence, of his
obsequious and cunning smile, absolutely nothing remained.

His restless eyes, the contraction of his features, his gloomy manner,
and the occasional shudder which he could not repress, all betrayed his
secret perturbation.

So marked was the change that even the Duc de Sairmeuse observed it.

\x93What calamity has happened to you, Master Chupin?\x94 he inquired.

\x93This has happened,\x94 he responded, sullenly: \x93when I was coming here
the children of the town threw mud and stones at me, and ran after me,
shouting: \x91Traitor! traitor!\x92\x94

He clinched his fists; he seemed to be meditating vengeance, and he
added:

\x93The people of Montaignac are pleased. They know that the baron has
escaped, and they are rejoicing.\x94

Alas! this joy was destined to be of short duration, for this was the
day appointed for the execution of the conspirators.

It was Wednesday.

At noon the gates of the citadel were closed, and the gloom was
profound and universal, when the heavy rolling of drums announced the
preparations for the frightful holocaust.

Consternation and fear spread through the town; the silence of death
made itself felt on every side; the streets were deserted, and the doors
and shutters of every house were closed.

At last, as three o\x92clock sounded, the gates of the fortress were opened
to give passage to fourteen doomed men, each accompanied by a priest.

Fourteen! for seized by remorse or fright at the last moment, M de
Courtornieu and the Duc de Sairmeuse had granted a reprieve to six of
the prisoners and at that very hour a courier was hastening toward Paris
with six petitions for pardons, signed by the Military Commission.

Chanlouineau was not among those for whom royal clemency had been
solicited.

When he left his cell, without knowing whether or not his letter had
availed, he counted the condemned with poignant anxiety.

His eyes betrayed such an agony of anguish that the priest who
accompanied him leaned toward him and whispered:

\x93For whom are you looking, my son?\x94

\x93For Baron d\x92Escorval.\x94

\x93He escaped last night.\x94

\x93Ah! now I shall die content!\x94 exclaimed the heroic peasant.

He died as he had sworn he would die, without even changing color--calm
and proud, the name of Marie-Anne upon his lips.



CHAPTER XXXIII

Ah, well, there was one woman, a fair young girl, whose heart had not
been touched by the sorrowful scenes of which Montaignac had been the
theatre.

Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu smiled as brightly as ever in the midst of
a stricken people; and surrounded by mourners, her lovely eyes remained
dry.

The daughter of a man who, for a week, exercised the power of a
dictator, she did not lift her finger to save a single one of the
condemned prisoners from the executioner.

They had stopped her carriage on the public road. This was a crime which
Mlle. de Courtornieu could never forget.

She also knew that she owed it to Marie-Anne\x92s intercession that she had
not been held prisoner. This she could never forgive.

So it was with the bitterest resentment that, on the morning
following her arrival in Montaignac, she recounted what she styled her
\x93humiliations\x94 to her father, i.e., the inconceivable arrogance of that
Lacheneur girl, and the frightful brutality of which the peasants had
been guilty.

And when the Marquis de Courtornieu asked if she would consent to
testify against Baron d\x92Escorval, she coldly replied:

\x93I think that such is my duty, and I shall fulfil it, however painful it
may be.\x94

She knew perfectly well that her deposition would be the baron\x92s
death-warrant; but she persisted in her resolve, veiling her hatred and
her insensibility under the name of virtue.

But we must do her the justice to admit that her testimony was sincere.

She really believed that it was Baron d\x92Escorval who was with the
rebels, and whose opinion Chanlouineau had asked.

This error on the part of Mlle. Blanche rose from the custom of
designating Maurice by his Christian name, which prevailed in the
neighborhood.

In speaking of him everyone said \x93Monsieur Maurice.\x94 When they said
\x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval,\x94 they referred to the baron.

After the crushing evidence against the accused had been written and
signed in her fine and aristocratic hand-writing, Mlle. de Courtornieu
bore herself with partly real and partly affected indifference. She
would not, on any account, have had people suppose that anything
relating to these plebeians--these low peasants--could possibly disturb
her proud serenity. She would not so much as ask a single question on
the subject.

But this superb indifference was, in great measure, assumed. In her
inmost soul she was blessing this conspiracy which had caused so many
tears and so much blood to flow. Had it not removed her rival from her
path?

\x93Now,\x94 she thought, \x93the marquis will return to me, and I will make him
forget the bold creature who has bewitched him!\x94

Chimeras! The charm had vanished which had once caused the love of
Martial de Sairmeuse to oscillate between Mlle. de Courtornieu and the
daughter of Lacheneur.

Captivated at first by the charms of Mlle. Blanche, he soon discovered
the calculating ambition and the utter worldliness concealed beneath
such seeming simplicity and candor. Nor was he long in discerning her
intense vanity, her lack of principle, and her unbounded selfishness;
and, comparing her with the noble and generous Marie-Anne, his
admiration was changed into indifference, or rather repugnance.

He did return to her, however, or at least he seemed to return to
her, actuated, perhaps, by that inexplicable sentiment that impels us
sometimes to do that which is most distasteful to us, and by a feeling
of discouragement and despair, knowing that Marie-Anne was now lost to
him forever.

He also said to himself that a pledge had been interchanged between the
duke and the Marquis de Courtornieu; that he, too, had given his word,
and that Mlle. Blanche was his betrothed.

Was it worth while to break this engagement? Would he not be compelled
to marry some day? Why not fulfil the pledge that had been made? He was
as willing to marry Mlle. de Courtornieu as anyone else, since he was
sure that the only woman whom he had ever truly loved--the only woman
whom he ever could love--was never to be his.

Master of himself when near her, and sure that he would ever remain the
same, it was easy to play the part of lover with that perfection and
that charm which--sad as it is to say it--the real passion seldom
or never attains. He was assisted by his self-love, and also by that
instinct of duplicity which leads a man to contradict his thoughts by
his acts.

But while he seemed to be occupied only with thoughts of his approaching
marriage, his mind was full of intense anxiety concerning Baron
d\x92Escorval.

What had become of the baron and of Bavois after their escape? What had
become of those who were awaiting them on the rocks--for Martial knew
all their plans--Mme. d\x92Escorval and Marie-Anne, the abbe and Maurice,
and the four officers?

There were, then, ten persons in all who had disappeared. And Martial
asked himself again and again, how it could be possible for so many
individuals to mysteriously disappear, leaving no trace behind them.

\x93It unquestionably denotes a superior ability,\x94 thought Martial, \x93I
recognize the hand of the priest.\x94

It was, indeed, remarkable, since the search ordered by the Duc de
Sairmeuse and the marquis had been pursued with feverish activity,
greatly to the terror of those who had instituted it. Still what could
they do? They had imprudently excited the zeal of their subordinates,
and now they were unable to moderate it. But fortunately all efforts to
discover the fugitives had proved unavailing.

One witness testified, however, that on the morning of the escape, he
met, just before daybreak, a party of about a dozen persons, men and
women, who seemed to be carrying a dead body.

This circumstance, taken in connection with the broken rope and the
blood-stains, made Martial tremble.

He had also been strongly impressed by another circumstance, which was
revealed as the investigation progressed.

All the soldiers who were on guard that eventful night were
interrogated. One of them testified as follows:

\x93I was on guard in the corridor communicating with the prisoner\x92s
apartment in the tower, when at about half-past two o\x92clock, after
Lacheneur had been placed in his cell, I saw an officer approaching me.
I challenged him; he gave me the countersign, and, naturally, I allowed
him to pass. He went down the corridor, and entered the room adjoining
that in which Monsieur d\x92Escorval was confined. He remained there about
five minutes.\x94

\x93Did you recognize this officer?\x94 Martial eagerly inquired.

And the soldier answered: \x93No. He wore a large cloak, the collar of
which was turned up so high that it covered his face to the very eyes.\x94

Who could this mysterious officer have been? What was he doing in the
room where the ropes had been deposited?

Martial racked his brain to discover an answer to these questions.

The Marquis de Courtornieu himself seemed much disturbed.

\x93How could you be ignorant that there were many sympathizers with this
movement in the garrison?\x94 he said, angrily. \x93You might have known that
this visitor, who concealed his face so carefully, was an accomplice who
had been warned by Bavois, and who came to see if he needed a helping
hand.\x94

This was a plausible explanation, still it did not satisfy Martial.

\x93It is very strange,\x94 he thought, \x93that Monsieur d\x92Escorval has not
even deigned to let me know he is in safety. The service which _I_ have
rendered him deserves that acknowledgment, at least.\x94

Such was his disquietude that he resolved to apply to Chupin, even
though this traitor inspired him with extreme repugnance.

But it was no longer easy to obtain the services of the old spy. Since
he had received the price of Lacheneur\x92s blood--the twenty thousand
francs which had so fascinated him--Chupin had deserted the house of the
Duc de Sairmeuse.

He had taken up his quarters in a small inn on the outskirts of the
town; and he spent his days alone in a large room on the second floor.

At night he barricaded the doors, and drank, drank, drank; and until
daybreak they could hear him cursing and singing or struggling against
imaginary enemies.

Still he dared not disobey the order brought by a soldier, summoning him
to the Hotel de Sairmeuse at once.

\x93I wish to discover what has become of Baron d\x92Escorval,\x94 said Martial.

Chupin trembled, he who had formerly been bronze, and a fleeting color
dyed his cheeks.

\x93The Montaignac police are at your disposal,\x94 he answered sulkily.
\x93They, perhaps, can satisfy the curiosity of Monsieur le Marquis. I do
not belong to the police.\x94

Was he in earnest, or was he endeavoring to augment the value of his
services by refusing them? Martial inclined to the latter opinion.

\x93You shall have no reason to complain of my generosity,\x94 said he. \x93I
will pay you well.\x94

But on hearing the word \x93pay,\x94 which would have made his eyes gleam with
delight a week before, Chupin flew into a furious passion.

\x93So it was to tempt me again that you summoned me here!\x94 he exclaimed.
\x93You would do better to leave me quietly at my inn.\x94

\x93What do you mean, fool?\x94

But Chupin did not even hear this interruption, and, with increasing
fury, he continued:

\x93They told me that, by betraying Lacheneur, I should be doing my duty
and serving the King. I betrayed him, and now I am treated as if I had
committed the worst of crimes. Formerly, when I lived by stealing and
poaching, they despised me, perhaps; but they did not shun me as they
did the pestilence. They called me rascal, robber, and the like; but
they would drink with me all the same. To-day I have twenty thousand
francs, and I am treated as if I were a venomous beast. If I approach a
man, he draws back; if I enter a room, those who are there leave it.\x94

The recollection of the insults he had received made him more and more
frantic with rage.

\x93Was the act I committed so ignoble and abominable?\x94 he pursued. \x93Then
why did your father propose it? The shame should fall on him. He should
not have tempted a poor man with wealth like that. If, on the contrary,
I have done well, let them make laws to protect me.\x94

Martial comprehended the necessity of reassuring his troubled mind.

\x93Chupin, my boy,\x94 said he, \x93I do not ask you to discover Monsieur
d\x92Escorval in order to denounce him; far from it--I only desire you to
ascertain if anyone at Saint-Pavin, or at Saint-Jean-de-Coche, knows of
his having crossed the frontier.\x94

On hearing the name Saint-Jean-de-Coche, Chupin\x92s face blanched.

\x93Do you wish me to be murdered?\x94 he exclaimed, remembering Balstain
and his vow. \x93I would have you know that I value my life, now that I am
rich.\x94

And seized with a sort of panic he fled precipitately. Martial was
stupefied with astonishment.

\x93One might really suppose that the wretch was sorry for what he had
done,\x94 he thought.

If that was really the case, Chupin was not alone.

M. de Courtornieu and the Duc de Sairmeuse were secretly blaming
themselves for the exaggerations in their first reports, and the manner
in which they had magnified the proportions of the rebellion. They
accused each other of undue haste, of neglect of the proper forms of
procedure, and the injustice of the verdict rendered.

Each endeavored to make the other responsible for the blood which had
been spilled; one tried to cast the public odium upon the other.

Meanwhile they were both doing their best to obtain a pardon for the six
prisoners who had been reprieved.

They did not succeed.

One night a courier arrived at Montaignac, bearing the following laconic
despatch:


\x93The twenty-one convicted prisoners must be executed.\x94


That is to say, the Duc de Richelieu, and the council of ministers,
headed by M. Decazes, the minister of police, had decided that the
petitions for clemency must be refused.

This despatch was a terrible blow to the Duc de Sairmeuse and M. de
Courtornieu. They knew, better than anyone else, how little these poor
men, whose lives they had tried, too late, to save, deserved death. They
knew it would soon be publicly proven that two of the six men had taken
no part whatever in the conspiracy.

What was to be done?

Martial desired his father to resign his authority; but the duke had not
courage to do it.

M. de Courtornieu encouraged him. He admitted that all this was very
unfortunate, but declared, since the wine had been drawn, that it was
necessary to drink it, and that one could not draw back now without
causing a terrible scandal.

The next day the dismal rolling of drums was again heard, and the six
doomed men, two of whom were known to be innocent, were led outside
the walls of the citadel and shot, on the same spot where, only a week
before, fourteen of their comrades had fallen.

And the prime mover in the conspiracy had not yet been tried.

Confined in the cell next to that which Chanlouineau had occupied,
Lacheneur had fallen into a state of gloomy despondency, which lasted
during his whole term of imprisonment. He was terribly broken, both in
body and in mind.

Once only did the blood mount to his pallid cheek, and that was on the
morning when the Duc de Sairmeuse entered the cell to interrogate him.

\x93It was you who drove me to do what I did,\x94 he said. \x93God sees us, and
judges us!\x94

Unhappy man! his faults had been great; his chastisement was terrible.

He had sacrificed his children on the altar of his wounded pride; he
had not even the consolation of pressing them to his heart and of asking
their forgiveness before he died.

Alone in his cell he could not distract his mind from thoughts of his
son and of his daughter; but such was the terrible situation in which he
had placed himself that he dared not ask what had become of them.

Through a compassionate keeper, he learned that nothing had been heard
of Jean, and that it was supposed Marie-Anne had gone to some foreign
country with the d\x92Escorval family.

When summoned before the court for trial, Lacheneur was calm and
dignified in manner. He attempted no defence, but responded with perfect
frankness. He took all the blame upon himself, and would not give the
name of one of his accomplices.

Condemned to be beheaded, he was executed on the following day. In
spite of the rain, he desired to walk to the place of execution. When he
reached the scaffold, he ascended the steps with a firm tread, and, of
his own accord, placed his head upon the block.

A few seconds later, the rebellion of the 4th of March counted its
twenty-first victim.

And that same evening the people everywhere were talking of the
magnificent rewards which were to be bestowed upon the Duc de Sairmeuse
and the Marquis de Courtornieu; and it was also asserted that the
nuptials of the children of these great houses were to take place before
the close of the week.



CHAPTER XXXIV

That Martial de Sairmeuse was to marry Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu did
not surprise the inhabitants of Montaignac in the least.

But spreading such a report, with Lacheneur\x92s execution fresh in the
minds of everyone, could not fail to bring odium upon these men who had
held absolute power, and who had exercised it so mercilessly.

Heaven knows that M. de Courtornieu and the Duc de Sairmeuse were now
doing their best to make the people of Montaignac forget the atrocious
cruelty of which they had been guilty during their dictatorship.

Of the hundred or more who were confined in the citadel, only
eighteen or twenty were tried, and they received only some very slight
punishment; the others were released.

Major Carini, the leader of the conspirators in Montaignac, who had
expected to lose his head, heard himself, with astonishment, sentenced
to two years\x92 imprisonment.

But there are crimes which nothing can efface or extenuate. Public
opinion attributed this sudden clemency on the part of the duke and the
marquis to fear.

People execrated them for their cruelty, and despised them for their
apparent cowardice.

They were ignorant of this, however, and hastened forward the
preparations for the nuptials of their children, without suspecting that
the marriage was considered a shameless defiance of public sentiment on
their part.

The 17th of April was the day which had been appointed for the bridal,
and the wedding-feast was to be held at the Chateau de Sairmeuse, which,
at a great expense, had been transformed into a fairy palace for the
occasion.

It was in the church of the little village of Sairmeuse, on the
loveliest of spring days, that this marriage ceremony was performed by
the cure who had taken the place of poor Abbe Midon.

At the close of the address to the newly wedded pair, the priest uttered
these words, which he believed prophetic:

\x93You will be, you _must_ be happy!\x94

Who would not have believed as he did? Where could two young people
be found more richly dowered with all the attributes likely to produce
happiness, i.e., youth, rank, health, and riches.

But though an intense joy sparkled in the eyes of the new Marquise
de Sairmeuse, there were those among the guests who observed the
bridegroom\x92s preoccupation. One might have supposed that he was making
an effort to drive away some gloomy thought.

At the moment when his young wife hung upon his arm, proud and radiant,
a vision of Marie-Anne rose before him, more life-like, more potent than
ever.

What had become of her that she had not been seen at the time of her
father\x92s execution? Courageous as he knew her to be, if she had made no
attempt to see her father, it must have been because she was ignorant of
his approaching doom.

\x93Ah! if she had but loved him,\x94 Martial thought, \x93what happiness would
have been his. But, now he was bound for life to a woman whom he did not
love.\x94

At dinner, however, he succeeded in shaking off the sadness that
oppressed him, and when the guests rose to repair to the drawing-rooms,
he had almost forgotten his dark forebodings. He was rising in his turn,
when a servant approached him with a mysterious air.

\x93Someone desires to see the marquis,\x94 whispered the valet.

\x93Who?\x94

\x93A young peasant who will not give his name.\x94

\x93On one\x92s wedding-day, one must grant an audience to everybody,\x94 said
Martial.

And gay and smiling he descended the staircase.

In the vestibule, lined with rare and fragrant plants, stood a young
man. He was very pale, and his eyes glittered with feverish brilliancy.

On recognizing him Martial could not restrain an exclamation of
surprise.

\x93Jean Lacheneur!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93imprudent man!\x94

The young man stepped forward.

\x93You believed that you were rid of me,\x94 he said, bitterly. \x93Instead, I
return from afar. You can have your people arrest me if you choose.\x94

Martial\x92s face crimsoned at the insult; but he retained his composure.

\x93What do you desire?\x94 he asked, coldly.

Jean drew from his pocket a folded letter.

\x93I am to give you this on behalf of Maurice d\x92Escorval.\x94

With an eager hand, Martial broke the seal. He glanced over the letter,
turned as pale as death, staggered and said only one word.

\x93Infamous!\x94

\x93What must I say to Maurice?\x94 insisted Jean. \x93What do you intend to do?\x94

With a terrible effort Martial had conquered his weakness. He seemed to
deliberate for ten seconds, then seizing Jean\x92s arm, he dragged him up
the staircase, saying:

\x93Come--you shall see.\x94

Martial\x92s countenance had changed so much during the three minutes
he had been absent that there was an exclamation of terror when he
reappeared, holding an open letter in one hand and leading with the
other a young peasant whom no one recognized.

\x93Where is my father?\x94 he demanded, in a husky voice; \x93where is the
Marquis de Courtornieu?\x94

The duke and the marquis were with Mme. Blanche in the little salon at
the end of the main hall.

Martial hastened there, followed by a crowd of wondering guests, who,
foreseeing a stormy scene, were determined not to lose a syllable.

He walked directly to M. de Courtornieu, who was standing by the
fireplace, and handing him the letter:

\x93Read!\x94 said he, in a terrible voice.

M. de Courtornieu obeyed. He became livid; the paper trembled in his
hands; his eyes fell, and he was obliged to lean against the marble
mantel for support.

\x93I do not understand,\x94 he stammered: \x93no, I do not understand.\x94

The duke and Mme. Blanche both sprang forward.

\x93What is it?\x94 they asked in a breath; \x93what has happened?\x94

With a rapid movement, Martial tore the paper from the hands of the
Marquis de Courtornieu, and addressing his father:

\x93Listen to this letter,\x94 he said, imperiously.

Three hundred people were assembled there, but the silence was so
profound that the voice of the young marquis penetrated to the farthest
extremity of the hall as he read:


\x93Monsieur le marquis--In exchange for a dozen lines that threatened you
with ruin, you promised us, upon the honor of your name, the life of
Baron d\x92Escorval.

\x93You did, indeed, bring the ropes by which he was to make his escape,
but they had been previously cut, and my father was precipitated to the
rocks below.

\x93You have forfeited your honor, Monsieur. You have soiled your name with
ineffaceable opprobrium. While so much as a drop of blood remains in my
veins, I will leave no means untried to punish you for your cowardice
and vile treason.

\x93By killing me you would, it is true, escape the chastisement I am
reserving for you. Consent to fight with me. Shall I await you to-morrow
on the Reche? At what hour? With what weapons?

\x93If you are the vilest of men, you can appoint a rendezvous, and then
send your gendarmes to arrest me. That would be an act worthy of you.

\x93Maurice d\x92Escorval.\x94


The duke was in despair. He saw the secret of the baron\x92s flight made
public--his political prospects ruined.

\x93Hush!\x94 he said, hurriedly, and in a low voice; \x93hush, wretched man, you
will ruin us!\x94

But Martial seemed not even to hear him. When he had finished his
reading:

\x93Now, what do you think?\x94 he demanded, looking the Marquis de
Courtornieu full in the face.

\x93I am still unable to comprehend,\x94 said the old nobleman, coldly.

Martial lifted his hand; everyone believed that he was about to strike
the man who had been his father-in-law only a few hours.

\x93Very well! I comprehend!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93I know now who that officer
was who entered the room in which I had deposited the ropes--and I know
what took him there.\x94

He crumbled the letter between his hands and threw it in M. de
Courtornieu\x92s face, saying:

\x93Here is your reward--coward!\x94

Overwhelmed by this _denouement_ the marquis sank into an arm-chair, and
Martial, still holding Jean Lacheneur by the arm, was leaving the room,
when his young wife, wild with despair, tried to detain him.

\x93You shall not go!\x94 she exclaimed, intensely exasperated; \x93you shall
not! Where are you going? To rejoin the sister of the man, whom I now
recognize?\x94

Beside himself, Martial pushed his wife roughly aside.

\x93Wretch!\x94 said he, \x93how dare you insult the noblest and purest of women?
Ah, well--yes--I am going to find Marie-Anne. Farewell!\x94

And he passed on.



CHAPTER XXXV

The ledge of rock upon which Baron d\x92Escorval and Corporal Bavois rested
in their descent from the tower was very narrow.

In the widest place it did not measure more than a yard and a half, and
its surface was uneven, cut by innumerable fissures and crevices, and
sloped suddenly at the edge. To stand there in the daytime, with the
wall of the tower behind one, and the precipice at one\x92s feet, would
have been considered very imprudent.

Of course, the task of lowering a man from this ledge, at dead of night,
was perilous in the extreme.

Before allowing the baron to descend, honest Bavois took every possible
precaution to save himself from being dragged over the verge of the
precipice by the weight he would be obliged to sustain.

He placed his crowbar firmly in a crevice of the rock, then bracing his
feet against the bar, he seated himself firmly, throwing his shoulders
well back, and it was only when he was sure of his position that he said
to the baron:

\x93I am here and firmly fixed, comrade; now let yourself down.\x94

The sudden parting of the rope hurled the brave corporal rudely against
the tower wall, then he was thrown forward by the rebound.

His unalterable _sang-froid_ was all that saved him.

For more than a minute he hung suspended over the abyss into which the
baron had just fallen, and his hands clutched at the empty air.

A hasty movement, and he would have fallen.

But he possessed a marvellous power of will, which prevented him from
attempting any violent effort. Prudently, but with determined energy,
he screwed his feet and his knees into the crevices of the rock, feeling
with his hands for some point of support, and gradually sinking to one
side, he finally succeeded in dragging himself from the verge of the
precipice.

It was time, for a cramp seized him with such violence that he was
obliged to sit down and rest for a moment.

That the baron had been killed by his fall, Bavois did not doubt for an
instant. But this catastrophe did not produce much effect upon the old
soldier, who had seen so many comrades fall by his side on the field of
battle.

What did _amaze_ him was the breaking of the rope--a rope so large that
one would have supposed it capable of sustaining the weight of ten men
like the baron.

As he could not, by reason of the darkness, see the ruptured place,
Bavois felt it with his finger; and, to his inexpressible astonishment,
he found it smooth. No filaments, no rough bits of hemp, as usual after
a break; the surface was perfectly even.

The corporal comprehended what Maurice had comprehended below.

\x93The scoundrels have cut the rope!\x94 he exclaimed, with a frightful oath.

And a recollection of what had happened three or four hours previous
arose in his mind.

\x93This,\x94 he thought, \x93explains the noise which the poor baron heard in
the next room! And I said to him: \x91Nonsense! it is a rat!\x92\x94

Then he thought of a very simple method of verifying his conjectures. He
passed the cord about the crowbar and pulled it with all his strength.
It parted in three places.

This discovery appalled him.

A part of the rope had fallen with the unfortunate baron, and it was
evident that the remaining fragments tied together would not be long
enough to reach to the base of the rock.

From this isolated ledge it was impossible to reach the ground upon
which the citadel was built.

\x93You are in a fine fix, Corporal,\x94 he growled.

Honest Bavois looked the situation full in the face, and saw that it was
desperate.

\x93Well, Corporal, your jig is up!\x94 he murmured, \x93At daybreak they will
find that the baron\x92s cell is empty. They will poke their heads out
of the window, and they will see you here, like a stone saint upon his
pedestal. Naturally, you will be captured, tried, condemned; and you
will be led out to take your turn in the ditches. Ready! Aim! Fire! And
that will be the end of your story.\x94

He stopped short. A vague idea had entered his mind, which he felt might
possibly be his salvation.

It came to him in touching the rope which he had used in his descent
from the prison to the ledge, and which, firmly attached to the bars,
hung down the side of the tower.

\x93If you had that rope which hangs there useless, Corporal, you could add
it to these fragments, and then it would be long enough to carry you
to the foot of the rock. But how shall I obtain it? It is certainly
impossible to go back after it! and how can I pull it down when it is so
securely fastened to the bars?\x94

He sought a way, found it, and pursued it, talking to himself all the
while as if there were two corporals; one prompt to conceive, the other,
a trifle stupid, to whom it was necessary to explain everything in
detail.

\x93Attention, Corporal,\x94 said he. \x93You are going to knot these five pieces
of rope together and attach them to your waist; then you are going to
climb up to that window, hand over hand. Not an easy matter! A carpeted
staircase is preferable to that rope dangling there. But no matter, you
are not finical, Corporal! So you climb it, and here you are in the cell
again. What are you going to do? A mere nothing. You are unfastening the
cord attached to the bars; you will tie it to this, and that will give
you eighty feet of good strong rope. Then you will pass the rope about
one of the bars that remain intact; the rope will thus be doubled; then
you let yourself down again, and when you are here, you have only
to untie one of the knots and the rope is at your service. Do you
understand, Corporal?\x94

The corporal did understand so well that in less than twenty minutes
he was back again upon the narrow shelf of rock, the difficult and
dangerous operation which he had planned accomplished.

Not without a terrible effort; not without torn and bleeding hands and
knees.

But he had succeeded in obtaining the rope, and now he was certain
that he could make his escape from his dangerous position. He laughed
gleefully, or rather with that chuckle which was habitual to him.

Anxiety, then joy, had made him forget M. d\x92Escorval. At the thought of
him, he was smitten with remorse.

\x93Poor man!\x94 he murmured. \x93I shall succeed in saving my miserable life,
for which no one cares, but I was unable to save him. Undoubtedly, by
this time his friends have carried him away.\x94

As he uttered these words he was leaning over the abyss. He doubted the
evidence of his own senses when he saw a faint light moving here and
there in the depths below.

What had happened? For something very extraordinary must have happened
to induce intelligent men like the baron\x92s friends to display this
light, which, if observed from the citadel, would betray their presence
and ruin them.

But Corporal Bavois\x92s moments were too precious to be wasted in idle
conjectures.

\x93Better go down on the double-quick,\x94 he said aloud, as if to spur on
his courage. \x93Come, my friend, spit on your hands and be off!\x94

As he spoke the old soldier threw himself flat on his belly and crawled
slowly backward to the verge of the precipice. The spirit was strong,
but the flesh shuddered. To march upon a battery had always been a mere
pastime to the worthy corporal; but to face an unknown peril, to suspend
one\x92s life upon a cord, was a different matter.

Great drops of perspiration, caused by the horror of his situation,
stood out upon his brow when he felt that half his body had passed the
edge of the precipice, and that the slightest movement would now launch
him into space.

He made this movement, murmuring:

\x93If there is a God who watches over honest people let Him open His eyes
this instant!\x94

The God of the just was watching.

Bavois arrived at the end of his dangerous journey with torn and
bleeding hands, but safe. He fell like a mass of rock; and the rudeness
of the shock drew from him a groan resembling the roar of an infuriated
beast.

For more than a minute he lay there upon the ground stunned and dizzy.

When he rose two men seized him roughly.

\x93Ah, no foolishness,\x94 he said quickly. \x93It is I, Bavois.\x94

This did not cause them to relax their hold.

\x93How does it happen,\x94 demanded one, in a threatening tone, \x93that Baron
d\x92Escorval falls and you succeed in making the descent in safety a few
moments later?\x94

The old soldier was too shrewd not to understand the whole import of
this insulting question.

The sorrow and indignation aroused within him gave him strength to free
himself from the hands of his captors.

\x93_Mille tonnerres_!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93so I pass for a traitor, do I! No,
it is impossible--listen to me.\x94

Then rapidly, but with surprising clearness, he related all the details
of his escape, his despair, his perilous situation, and the almost
insurmountable obstacles which he had overcome. To hear was to believe.

The men--they were, of course, the retired army officers who had
been waiting for the baron--offered the honest corporal their hands,
sincerely sorry that they had wounded the feelings of a man who was so
worthy of their respect and gratitude.

\x93You will forgive us, Corporal,\x94 they said, sadly. \x93Misery renders men
suspicious and unjust, and we are very unhappy.\x94

\x93No offence,\x94 he growled. \x93If I had trusted poor Monsieur d\x92Escorval, he
would be alive now.\x94

\x93The baron still breathes,\x94 said one of the officers.

This was such astounding news that Bavois was utterly confounded for a
moment.

\x93Ah! I will give my right hand, if necessary, to save him!\x94 he
exclaimed, at last.

\x93If it is possible to save him, he will be saved, my friend. That worthy
priest whom you see there, is an excellent physician. He is examining
Monsieur d\x92Escorval\x92s wounds now. It was by his order that we procured
and lighted this candle, which may bring our enemies upon us at any
moment; but this is not a time for hesitation.\x94

Bavois looked with all his eyes, but from where he was standing he could
discover only a confused group of moving figures.

\x93I would like to see the poor man,\x94 he said, sadly.

\x93Come nearer, my good fellow; fear nothing!\x94

He stepped forward, and by the flickering light of the candle which
Marie-Anne held, he saw a spectacle which moved him more than the
horrors of the bloodiest battle-field.

The baron was lying upon the ground, his head supported on Mme.
d\x92Escorval\x92s knee.

His face was not disfigured; but he was pale as death itself, and his
eyes were closed.

At intervals a convulsive shudder shook his frame, and a stream of blood
gushed from his mouth. His clothing was hacked--literally hacked
in pieces; and it was easy to see that his body had sustained many
frightful wounds.

Kneeling beside the unconscious man, Abbe Midon, with admirable
dexterity, was stanching the blood and applying bandages which had been
torn from the linen of those present.

Maurice and one of the officers were assisting him. \x93Ah! if I had my
hands on the scoundrel who cut the rope,\x94 cried the corporal, in a
passion of indignation; \x93but patience. I shall have him yet.\x94

\x93Do you know who it was?\x94

\x93Only too well!\x94

He said no more. The abbe had done all it was possible to do, and he now
lifted the wounded man a little higher on Mme. d\x92Escorval\x92s knee.

This change of position elicited a moan that betrayed the unfortunate
baron\x92s intense sufferings. He opened his eyes and faltered a few
words--they were the first he had uttered.

\x93Firmin!\x94 he murmured, \x93Firmin!\x94 It was the name of the baron\x92s former
secretary, a man who had been absolutely devoted to his master, but who
had been dead for several years. It was evident that the baron\x92s mind
was wandering. Still he had some vague idea of his terrible situation,
for in a stifled, almost inaudible voice, he added:

\x93Oh! how I suffer! Firmin, I will not fall into the hands of the Marquis
de Courtornieu alive. You shall kill me rather--do you hear me? I
command it.\x94

This was all; then his eyes closed again, and his head fell back a dead
weight. One would have supposed that he had yielded up his last sigh.

Such was the opinion of the officers; and it was with poignant anxiety
they drew the abbe a little aside.

\x93Is it all over?\x94 they asked. \x93Is there any hope?\x94

The priest sadly shook his head, and pointing to heaven:

\x93My hope is in God!\x94 he said, reverently.

The hour, the place, the terrible catastrophe, the present danger, the
threatening future, all combined to lend a deep solemnity to the words
of the priest.

So profound was the impression that, for more than a minute, these men,
familiar with peril and scenes of horror, stood in awed silence.

Maurice, who approached, followed by Corporal Bavois, brought them back
to the exigencies of the present.

\x93Ought we not to make haste and carry away my father?\x94 he asked. \x93Must
we not be in Piedmont before evening?\x94

\x93Yes!\x94 exclaimed the officers, \x93let us start at once.\x94

But the priest did not move, and in a despondent voice, he said:

\x93To make any attempt to carry Monsieur d\x92Escorval across the frontier in
his present condition would cost him his life.\x94

This seemed so inevitably a death-warrant for them all, that they
shuddered.

\x93My God! what shall we do?\x94 faltered Maurice. \x93What course shall we
pursue?\x94

Not a voice replied. It was clear that they hoped for salvation through
the priest alone.

He was lost in thought, and it was some time before he spoke.

\x93About an hour\x92s walk from here,\x94 he said, at last, \x93beyond the Croix
d\x92Arcy, is the hut of a peasant upon whom I can rely. His name is
Poignot; and he was formerly in Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s employ. With the
assistance of his three sons, he now tills quite a large farm. We must
procure a litter and carry Monsieur d\x92Escorval to the house of this
honest peasant.\x94

\x93What, Monsieur,\x94 interrupted one of the officers, \x93you wish us to
procure a litter at this hour of the night, and in this neighborhood?\x94

\x93It must be done.\x94

\x93But, will it not awaken suspicion?\x94

\x93Most assuredly.\x94

\x93The Montaignac police will follow us.\x94

\x93I am certain of it.\x94

\x93The baron will be recaptured!\x94

\x93No.\x94

The abbe spoke in the tone of a man who, by virtue of assuming all the
responsibility, feels that he has a right to be obeyed.

\x93When the baron has been conveyed to Poignot\x92s house,\x94 he continued,
\x93one of you gentlemen will take the wounded man\x92s place upon the litter;
the others will carry him, and the party will remain together until it
has reached Piedmontese territory. Then you will separate and pretend
to conceal yourselves, but do it in such a way that you are seen
everywhere.\x94 All present comprehended the priest\x92s simple plan.

They were to throw the emissaries sent by the Duc de Sairmeuse and the
Marquis de Courtornieu off the track; and at the very moment it was
apparently proven that the baron was in the mountains, he would be safe
in Poignot\x92s house.

\x93One word more,\x94 added the priest. \x93It will be necessary to make the
_cortege_ which accompanies the pretended baron resemble as much as
possible the little party that would be likely to attend Monsieur
d\x92Escorval. Mademoiselle Lacheneur will accompany you; Maurice also.
People know that I would not leave the baron, who is my friend; my
priestly robe would attract attention; one of you must assume it. God
will forgive this deception on account of its worthy motive.\x94

It was now necessary to procure the litter; and the officers were
trying to decide where they should go to obtain it, when Corporal Bavois
interrupted them.

\x93Give yourselves no uneasiness,\x94 he remarked; \x93I know an inn not far
from here where I can procure one.\x94

He departed on the run, and five minutes later reappeared with a small
litter, a thin mattress, and a coverlid. He had thought of everything.

The wounded man was lifted carefully and placed upon the mattress.

A long and difficult operation which, in spite of extreme caution, drew
many terrible groans from the baron.

When all was ready, each officer took an end of the litter, and the
little procession, headed by the abbe, started on its way. They were
obliged to proceed slowly on account of the suffering which the least
jolting inflicted upon the baron. Still they made some progress, and by
daybreak they were about half way to Poignot\x92s house.

It was then that they met some peasants going to their daily toil. Both
men and women paused to look at them, and when the little _cortege_ had
passed they still stood gazing curiously after these people who were
apparently carrying a dead body.

The priest did not seem to trouble himself in regard to these
encounters; at least, he made no attempt to avoid them.

But he did seem anxious and cautious when, after a three hours\x92 march,
they came in sight of Poignot\x92s cottage.

Fortunately there was a little grove not far from the house. The abbe
made the party enter it, recommending the strictest prudence, while
he went on in advance to confer with this man, upon whose decision the
safety of the whole party depended.

As the priest approached the house, a small, thin man, with gray hair
and a sunburned face emerged from the stable.

It was Father Poignot.

\x93What! is this you, Monsieur le Cure!\x94 he exclaimed, delightedly.
\x93Heavens! how pleased my wife will be. We have a great favor to ask of
you----\x94

And then, without giving the abbe an opportunity to open his lips, he
began to tell him his perplexities. The night of the revolt he had given
shelter to a poor man who had received an ugly sword-thrust. Neither his
wife nor himself knew how to dress the wound, and he dared not call in a
physician.

\x93And this wounded man,\x94 he added, \x93is Jean Lacheneur, the son of my
former employer.\x94 A terrible anxiety seized the priest\x92s heart.

Would this man, who had already given an asylum to one wounded
conspirator, consent to receive another?

The abbe\x92s voice trembled as he made known his petition.

The farmer turned very pale and shook his head gravely, while the priest
was speaking. When the abbe had finished:

\x93Do you know, sir,\x94 he asked, coldly, \x93that I incur a great risk by
converting my house into a hospital for these rebels?\x94

The abbe dared not answer.

\x93They told me,\x94 Father Poignot continued, \x93that I was a coward, because
_I_ would not take part in the revolt. Such was not my opinion. Now I
choose to shelter these wounded men--I shelter them. In my opinion, it
requires quite as much courage as it does to go and fight.\x94

\x93Ah! you are a brave man!\x94 cried the abbe.

\x93I know that very well! Bring Monsieur d\x92Escorval. There is no one here
but my wife and boys--no one will betray him!\x94

A half hour later the baron was lying in a small loft, where Jean
Lacheneur was already installed.

From the window, Abbe Midon and Mme. d\x92Escorval watched the little
_cortege_, organized for the purpose of deceiving the Duc de Sairmeuse\x92s
spies, as it moved rapidly away.

Corporal Bavois, with his head bound up with bloodstained linen, had
taken the baron\x92s place upon the litter.

This was one of the troubled epochs in history that try men\x92s souls.
There is no chance for hypocrisy; each man stands revealed in his
grandeur, or in his pettiness of soul.

Certainly much cowardice was displayed during the early days of the
second Restoration; but many deeds of sublime courage and devotion were
performed.

These officers who befriended Mme. d\x92Escorval and Maurice--who lent
their aid to the abbe--knew the baron only by name and reputation.

It was sufficient for them to know that he was the friend of their
former ruler--the man whom they had made their idol, and they rejoiced
with all their hearts when they saw M. d\x92Escorval reposing under Father
Poignot\x92s roof in comparative security.

After this, their task, which consisted in misleading the government
emissaries, seemed to them mere child\x92s play.

But all these precautions were unnecessary. Public sentiment had
declared itself in an unmistakable manner, and it was evident that
Lacheneur\x92s hopes had not been without some foundation.

The police discovered nothing, not so much as a single detail of the
escape. They did not even hear of the little party that had travelled
nearly three leagues in the full light of day, bearing a wounded man
upon a litter.

Among the two thousand peasants who believed that this wounded man was
Baron d\x92Escorval, there was not one who turned informer or let drop an
indiscreet word.

But on approaching the frontier, which they knew to be strictly guarded,
the fugitives became even more cautious.

They waited until nightfall before presenting themselves at a lonely
inn, where they hoped to procure a guide to lead them through the
defiles of the mountains.

Frightful news awaited them there. The innkeeper informed them of the
bloody massacre at Montaignac.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, he related the details of the
execution, which he had heard from an eyewitness.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, he knew nothing of M. d\x92Escorval\x92s flight
or of M. Lacheneur\x92s arrest.

But he was well acquainted with Chanlouineau, and he was inconsolable
over the death of that \x93handsome young fellow, the best farmer in the
country.\x94

The officers, who had left the litter a short distance from the inn,
decided that they could confide at least a part of their secret to this
man.

\x93We are carrying one of our wounded comrades,\x94 they said to him. \x93Can
you guide us across the frontier to-night?\x94

The innkeeper replied that he would do so very willingly, that he would
promise to take them safely past the military posts; but that he would
not think of going upon the mountain before the moon rose.

By midnight the fugitives were _en route_; by daybreak they set foot on
Piedmont territory.

They had dismissed their guide some time before. They now proceeded to
break the litter in pieces; and handful by handful they cast the wool of
the mattress to the wind.

\x93Our task is accomplished,\x94 the officer said to Maurice. \x93We will now
return to France. May God protect you! Farewell!\x94

It was with tears in his eyes that Maurice saw these brave men, who had
just saved his father\x92s life, depart. Now he was the sole protector of
Marie-Anne, who, pale and overcome with fatigue and emotion, trembled on
his arm.

But no--Corporal Bavois still lingered by his side.

\x93And you, my friend,\x94 he asked, sadly, \x93what are you going to do?\x94

\x93Follow you,\x94 replied the old soldier. \x93I have a right to a home with
you; that was agreed between your father and myself! So do not hurry,
the young lady does not seem well, and I see the village only a short
distance away.\x94



CHAPTER XXXVI

Essentially a woman in grace and beauty, as well as in devotion and
tenderness, Marie-Anne was capable of a virile bravery. Her energy and
her coolness during those trying days had been the admiration and the
astonishment of all around her.

But human endurance has its limits. Always after excessive efforts comes
a moment when the shrinking flesh fails the firmest will.

When Marie-Anne tried to begin her journey anew, she found that her
strength was exhausted; her swollen feet would no longer sustain her,
her limbs sank under her, her head whirled, and an intense freezing
coldness crept over her heart.

Maurice and the old soldier were obliged to support her, almost carry
her. Fortunately they were not far from the village, whose church-tower
they had discerned through the gray mists of morning.

Soon the fugitives could distinguish the houses on the outskirts of the
town. The corporal suddenly stopped short with an oath.

\x93_Mille tonnerres_!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93and my uniform! To enter the village
in this rig would excite suspicion at once; before we had a chance to
sit down, the Piedmontese gendarmes would arrest us.\x94

He reflected for a moment, twirling his mustache furiously; then, in a
tone that would have made a passerby tremble, he said:

\x93All things are fair in love and war. The next peasant who passes--\x94

\x93But I have money,\x94 interrupted Maurice, unbuckling a belt filled with
gold, which he had put on under his clothing on the night of the revolt.

\x93Eh! we are fortunate!\x94 cried Bavois. \x93Give me some, and I will
soon find some shop in the suburbs where I can purchase a change of
clothing.\x94 He departed; but it was not long before he reappeared,
transformed by a peasant\x92s costume, which fitted him perfectly. His
small, thin face was almost hidden beneath an immense broad-brimmed hat.

\x93Now, steady, forward, march!\x94 he said to Maurice and Marie-Anne, who
scarcely recognized him in this disguise.

The town, which they soon reached, was called Saliente. They read the
name upon a guide-post.

The fourth house after entering the place was a hostelry, the
Traveller\x92s Rest. They entered it, and ordered the hostess to take the
young lady to a room and to assist her in disrobing.

The order was obeyed, and Maurice and the corporal went into the
dining-room and ordered something to eat.

The desired refreshments were served, but the glances cast upon the
guests were by no means friendly. It was evident that they were regarded
with suspicion.

A large man, who was apparently the proprietor of the house, hovered
around them, and at last embraced a favorable opportunity to ask their
names.

\x93My name is Dubois,\x94 replied Maurice, without the slightest hesitation.
\x93I am travelling on business, and this man here is my farmer.\x94

These replies seemed to reassure the host a little.

\x93And what is your business?\x94 he inquired.

\x93I came into this land of inquisitive people to buy mules,\x94 laughed
Maurice, striking his belt of money.

On hearing the jingle of the coin the man lifted his cap deferentially.
Raising mules was the chief industry of the country. This bourgeois was
very young, but he had a well-filled purse, and that was enough.

\x93You will excuse me,\x94 resumed the host, in quite a different tone. \x93You
see, we are obliged to be very careful. There has been some trouble in
Montaignac.\x94

The imminence of the peril and the responsibility devolving upon
him, gave Maurice an assurance unusual to him; and it was in the most
careless, off-hand manner possible that he concocted a quite plausible
story to explain his early arrival on foot accompanied by a sick wife.
He congratulated himself upon his address, but the old corporal was far
from satisfied.

\x93We are too near the frontier to bivouac here,\x94 he grumbled. \x93As soon as
the young lady is on her feet again we must hurry on.\x94

He believed, and Maurice hoped, that twenty-four hours of rest would
restore Marie-Anne.

They were mistaken. The very springs of life in her existence seemed to
have been drained dry. She did not appear to suffer, but she remained in
a death-like torpor, from which nothing could arouse her. They spoke to
her but she made no response. Did she hear? did she comprehend? It was
extremely doubtful.

By rare good fortune the mother of the proprietor proved to be a
good, kind-hearted old woman, who would not leave the bedside of
Marie-Anne--of Mme. Dubois, as she was called at the Traveller\x92s Rest.

It was not until the evening of the third day that they heard Marie-Anne
utter a word.

\x93Poor girl!\x94 she sighed; \x93poor, wretched girl!\x94

It was of herself that she spoke.

By a phenomenon not very unusual after a crisis in which reason has been
temporarily obscured, it seemed to her that it was someone else who had
been the victim of all the misfortunes, whose recollections gradually
returned to her like the memory of a painful dream.

What strange and terrible events had taken place since that August
Sabbath, when, on leaving the church with her father, she heard of the
arrival of the Duc de Sairmeuse.

And that was only eight months ago.

What a difference between those days when she lived happy and envied in
that beautiful Chateau de Sairmeuse, of which she believed herself the
mistress, and at the present time, when she found herself lying in the
comfortless room of a miserable country inn, attended by an old woman
whom she did not know, and with no other protection than that of an old
soldier--a deserter, whose life was in constant danger--and that of her
proscribed lover.

From this total wreck of her cherished ambitions, of her hopes, of her
fortune, of her happiness, and of her future, she had not even saved her
honor.

But was she alone responsible? Who had imposed upon her the odious role
which she had played with Maurice, Martial, and Chanlouineau?

As this last name darted through her mind, the scene in the prison-cell
rose suddenly and vividly before her.

Chanlouineau had given her a letter, saying as he did so:

\x93You will read this when I am no more.\x94

She might read it now that he had fallen beneath the bullets of the
soldiery. But what had become of it? From the moment that he gave it to
her until now she had not once thought of it.

She raised herself in bed, and in an imperious voice:

\x93My dress,\x94 she said to the old nurse, seated beside her; \x93give me my
dress.\x94

The woman obeyed; with an eager hand Marie-Anne examined the pocket.

She uttered an exclamation of joy on finding the letter there.

She opened it, read it slowly twice, then, sinking back on her pillows,
she burst into tears.

Maurice anxiously approached her.

\x93What is the matter?\x94 he inquired anxiously.

She handed him the letter, saying: \x93Read.\x94

Chanlouineau was only a poor peasant. His entire education had been
derived from an old country pedagogue, whose school he attended for
three winters, and who troubled himself much less about the progress of
his students than about the size of the books which they carried to and
from the school.

This letter, which was written upon the commonest kind of paper, was
sealed with a huge wafer, as large as a two-sou piece, which he had
purchased from a grocer in Sairmeuse.

The chirography was labored, heavy and trembling; it betrayed the stiff
hand of a man more accustomed to guiding the plough than the pen.

The lines zigzagged toward the top or toward the bottom of the page, and
faults of orthography were everywhere apparent.

But if the writing was that of a vulgar peasant, the thoughts it
expressed were worthy of the noblest, the proudest in the land.

This was the letter which Chanlouineau had written, probably on the eve
of the insurrection:


\x93Marie-Anne--The outbreak is at hand. Whether it succeeds, or whether it
fails, I shall die. That was decided on the day when I learned that you
could marry none other than Maurice d\x92Escorval.

\x93But the conspiracy will not succeed; and I understand your father well
enough to know that he will not survive its defeat. And if Maurice and
your brother should both be killed, what would become of you? Oh, my
God, would you not be reduced to beggary?

\x93The thought has haunted me continually. I have reflected, and this is
my last will:

\x93I give and bequeath to you all my property, all that I possess:

\x93My house, the Borderie, with the gardens and vineyards pertaining
thereto, the woodland and the pastures of Berarde, and five lots of land
at Valrollier.

\x93You will find an inventory of this property, and of my other
possessions which I devise to you, deposited with the lawyer at
Sairmeuse.

\x93You can accept this bequest without fear; for, having no parents, my
control over my property is absolute.

\x93If you do not wish to remain in France, this property will sell for at
least forty thousand francs.

\x93But it would, it seems to me, be better for you to remain in your own
country. The house on the Borderie is comfortable and convenient, since
I have had it divided into three rooms and thoroughly repaired.

\x93Upstairs is a room that has been fitted up by the best upholsterer in
Montaignac. I intended it for you. Beneath the hearth-stone in this room
you will find a box containing three hundred and twenty-seven louis d\x92or
and one hundred and forty-six livres.

\x93If you refuse this gift, it will be because you scorn me even after I
am dead. Accept it, if not for your own sake, for the sake of--I dare
not write it; but you will understand my meaning only too well.

\x93If Maurice is not killed, and I shall try my best to stand between him
and danger, he will marry you. Then you will, perhaps, be obliged to ask
his consent in order to accept my gift. I hope that he will not refuse
it. One is not jealous of the dead!

\x93Besides, he knows well that you have scarcely vouchsafed a glance to
the poor peasant who has loved you so much.

\x93Do not be offended at anything I have said, I am in such agony that I
cannot weigh my words.

\x93Adieu, adieu, Marie-Anne.

\x93Chanlouineau.\x94


Maurice also read twice, before handing it back, this letter whose every
word palpitated with sublime passion.

He was silent for a moment, then, in a husky voice, he said:

\x93You cannot refuse; it would be wrong.\x94

His emotion was so great that he could not conceal it, and he left the
room.

He was overwhelmed by the grandeur of soul exhibited by this peasant,
who, after saving the life of his successful rival at the Croix d\x92Arcy,
had wrested Baron d\x92Escorval from the hands of his executioners, and
who had never allowed a complaint nor a reproach to escape his lips, and
whose protection over the woman he adored extended even from beyond the
grave.

In comparison with this obscure hero, Maurice felt himself
insignificant, mediocre, unworthy.

Good God! what if this comparison should arise in Marie-Anne\x92s mind as
well? How could he compete with the memory of such nobility of soul and
heroic self-sacrifice?

Chanlouineau was mistaken; one, may, perhaps, be jealous of the dead!

But Maurice took good care to conceal this poignant anxiety and these
sorrowful thoughts, and during the days that followed, he presented
himself in Marie-Anne\x92s room with a calm, even cheerful face.

For she, unfortunately, was not restored to health. She had recovered
the full possession of her mental faculties, but her strength had not
yet returned. She was still unable to sit up; and Maurice was forced to
relinquish all thought of quitting Saliente, though he felt the earth
burn beneath his feet.

This persistent weakness began to astonish the old nurse. Her faith in
herbs, gathered by the light of the moon, was considerably shaken.

Honest Bavois was the first to suggest the idea of consulting a
physician whom he had found in this land of savages.

Yes; he had found a really skilful physician in the neighborhood, a
man of superior ability. Attached at one time to the beautiful court
of Prince Eugene, he had been obliged to flee from Milan, and had taken
refuge in this secluded spot.

This physician was summoned, and promptly made his appearance. He was
one of those men whose age it is impossible to determine. His past,
whatever it might have been, had wrought deep furrows on his brow, and
his glance was as keen and piercing as his lancet.

After visiting the sick-room, he drew Maurice aside.

\x93Is this young lady really your wife, Monsieur--Dubois?\x94

He hesitated so strangely over this name, Dubois, that Maurice felt his
face crimson to the roots of his hair.

\x93I do not understand your question,\x94 he retorted, angrily.

\x93I beg your pardon, of course, but you seem very young for a married
man, and your hands are too soft to belong to a farmer. And when I spoke
to this young lady of her husband, she blushed scarlet. The man who
accompanies you has terrible mustaches for a farmer. Besides, you
must remember that there have been troubles across the frontier at
Montaignac.\x94

From crimson Maurice had turned white. He felt that he was
discovered--that he was in this man\x92s power.

What should he do?

What good would denial do?

He reflected that confession is sometimes the height of prudence, and
that extreme confidence often meets with sympathy and protection; so, in
a voice trembling with anxiety, he said:

\x93You are not mistaken, Monsieur. My friend and myself both are
fugitives, undoubtedly condemned to death in France at this moment.\x94

And without giving the doctor time to respond, he narrated the
terrible events that had happened at Sairmeuse, and the history of his
unfortunate love-affair.

He omitted nothing. He neither concealed his own name nor that of
Marie-Anne.

When his recital was completed, the physician pressed his hand.

\x93It is just as I supposed,\x94 said he. \x93Believe me, Monsieur--Dubois, you
must not tarry here. What I have discovered others will discover. And
above all, do not warn the hotel-keeper of your departure. He has not
been deceived by your explanation. Self-interest alone has kept his
mouth closed. He has seen your money, and so long as you spend it at his
house he will hold his tongue; but if he discovers that you are going
away, he will probably betray you.\x94

\x93Ah! sir, but how is it possible for us to leave this place?\x94

\x93In two days the young lady will be on her feet again,\x94 interrupted the
physician. \x93And take my advice. At the next village, stop and give your
name to Mademoiselle Lacheneur.\x94

\x93Ah! sir,\x94 Maurice exclaimed; \x93have you considered the advice you offer
me? How can I, a proscribed man--a man condemned to death perhaps--how
can I obtain the necessary papers?\x94

The physician shook his head.

\x93Excuse me, you are no longer in France, Monsieur d\x92Escorval, you are in
Piedmont.\x94

\x93Another difficulty!\x94

\x93No, because in this country, people marry, or at least they can marry,
without all the formalities that cause you so much anxiety.\x94

\x93Is it possible?\x94 Maurice exclaimed.

\x93Yes, if you can find a priest who will consent to your union, inscribe
your name upon his parish register and give you a certificate, you will
be so indissolubly united, Mademoiselle Lacheneur and you, that the
court of Rome would never grant you a divorce.\x94

To suspect the truth of these affirmations was difficult, and yet
Maurice doubted still.

\x93So, sir,\x94 he said, hesitatingly, \x93in case I was able to find a
priest----\x94

The physician was silent. One might have supposed he was blaming himself
for meddling with matters that did not concern him.

Then, almost brusquely, he said:

\x93Listen to me attentively, Monsieur d\x92Escorval. I am about to take my
leave, but before I go, I shall take occasion to recommend a good
deal of exercise for the sick lady--I will do this before your host.
Consequently, day after to-morrow, Wednesday, you will hire mules, and
you, Mademoiselle Lacheneur and your old friend, the soldier, will
leave the hotel as if going on a pleasure excursion. You will push on
to Vigano, three leagues from here, where I live. I will take you to a
priest, one of my friends; and he, upon my recommendation, will perform
the marriage ceremony. Now reflect, shall I expect you on Wednesday?\x94

\x93Oh, yes, yes, Monsieur. How can I ever thank you?\x94

\x93By not thanking me at all. See, here is the innkeeper; you are Monsieur
Dubois, again.\x94

Maurice was intoxicated with joy. He understood the irregularity of
such a marriage, but he knew it would reassure Marie-Anne\x92s troubled
conscience. Poor girl! she was suffering an agony of remorse. It was
that which was killing her.

He did not speak to her on the subject, however, fearing something might
occur to interfere with the project.

But the old physician had not given his word lightly, and everything
took place as he had promised.

The priest at Vigano blessed the marriage of Maurice d\x92Escorval and of
Marie-Anne Lacheneur, and after inscribing their names upon the church
register, he gave them a certificate, upon which the physician and
Corporal Bavois figured as witnesses.

That same evening the mules were sent back to Saliente, and the
fugitives resumed their journey.

Abbe Midon had counselled them to reach Turin as quickly as possible.

\x93It is a large city,\x94 he said; \x93you will be lost in the crowd. I have
more than one friend there, whose name and address are upon this paper.
Go to them, and in that way I will try to send you news of your father.\x94

So it was toward Turin that Maurice, Marie-Anne, and Corporal Bavois
directed their steps.

But their progress was very slow, for they were obliged to avoid
frequented roads, and renounce the ordinary modes of transportation.

The fatigue of travel, instead of exhausting Marie-Anne, seemed to
revive her. After five or six days the color came back to her cheek and
her strength returned.

\x93Fate seems to have relaxed her rigor,\x94 said Maurice, one day. \x93Who
knows what compensations the future may have in store for us!\x94

No, fate had not taken pity upon them; it was only a short respite
granted by destiny. One lovely April morning the fugitives stopped for
breakfast at an inn on the outskirts of a large city.

Maurice having finished his repast was just leaving the table to settle
with the hostess, when a despairing cry arrested him.

Marie-Anne, deadly pale, and with eyes staring wildly at a paper which
she held in her hand, exclaimed in frenzied tones:

\x93Here! Maurice! Look!\x94

It was a French journal about a fortnight old, which had probably been
left there by some traveller.

Maurice seized it and read:


\x93Yesterday, Lacheneur, the leader of the revolt in Montaignac, was
executed. The miserable mischief-maker exhibited upon the scaffold the
audacity for which he has always been famous.\x94


\x93My father has been put to death!\x94 cried Marie-Anne, \x93and I--his
daughter--was not there to receive his last farewell!\x94

She rose, and in an imperious voice:

\x93I will go no farther,\x94 she said; \x93we must turn back now without losing
an instant. I wish to return to France.\x94

To return to France was to expose themselves to frightful peril. What
good would it do? Was not the misfortune irreparable?

So Corporal Bavois suggested, very timidly. The old soldier trembled at
the thought that they might suspect him of being afraid.

But Maurice would not listen.

He shuddered. It seemed to him that Baron d\x92Escorval must have been
discovered and arrested at the same time that Lacheneur was captured.

\x93Yes, let us start at once on our return!\x94 he exclaimed.

They immediately procured a carriage to convey them to the frontier. One
important question, however, remained to be decided. Should Maurice and
Marie-Anne make their marriage public? She wished to do so, but Maurice
entreated her, with tears in his eyes, to conceal it.

\x93Our marriage certificate will not silence the evil disposed,\x94 said he.
\x93Let us keep our secret for the present. We shall doubtless remain in
France only a few days.\x94

Unfortunately, Marie-Anne yielded.

\x93Since you wish it,\x94 said she, \x93I will obey you. No one shall know it.\x94

The next day, which was the 14th of April, the fugitives at nightfall
reached Father Poignot\x92s house.

Maurice and Corporal Bavois were disguised as peasants.

The old soldier had made one sacrifice that drew tears from his eyes; he
had shaved off his mustache.



CHAPTER XXXVII

When Abbe Midon and Martial de Sairmeuse held their conference, to
discuss and to decide upon the arrangements for the Baron d\x92Escorval\x92s
escape, a difficulty presented itself which threatened to break off the
negotiation.

\x93Return my letter,\x94 said Martial, \x93and I will save the baron.\x94

\x93Save the baron,\x94 replied the abbe, \x93and your letter shall be returned.\x94

But Martial\x92s was one of those natures which become exasperated by the
least shadow of suspicion.

The idea that anyone should suppose him influenced by threats, when in
reality, he had yielded only to Marie-Anne\x92s tears, angered him beyond
endurance.

\x93These are my last words, Monsieur,\x94 he said, emphatically. \x93Restore
to me, now, this instant, the letter which was obtained from me by
Chanlouineau\x92s ruse, and I swear to you, by the honor of my name, that
all which it is possible for any human being to do to save the baron, I
will do. If you distrust my word, good-evening.\x94

The situation was desperate, the danger imminent, the time limited;
Martial\x92s tone betrayed an inflexible determination.

The abbe could not hesitate. He drew the letter from his pocket and
handing it to Martial:

\x93Here it is, Monsieur,\x94 he said, solemnly, \x93remember that you have
pledged the honor of your name.\x94

\x93I will remember it, Monsieur le Cure. Go and obtain the ropes.\x94

The abbe\x92s sorrow and amazement were intense, when, after the baron\x92s
terrible fall, Maurice announced that the cord had been cut. And yet he
could not make up his mind that Martial was guilty of the execrable act.
It betrayed a depth of duplicity and hypocrisy which is rarely found
in men under twenty-five years of age. But no one suspected his secret
thoughts. It was with the most unalterable _sang-froid_ that he dressed
the baron\x92s wounds and made arrangements for the flight. Not until he
saw M. d\x92Escorval installed in Poignot\x92s house did he breathe freely.

The fact that the baron had been able to endure the journey, proved
that in this poor maimed body remained a power of vitality for which the
priest had not dared to hope.

Some way must now be discovered to procure the surgical instruments and
the remedies which the condition of the wounded man demanded.

But where and how could he procure them?

The police kept a close watch over the physicians and druggists in
Montaignac, in the hope of discovering the wounded conspirators through
them.

But the cure, who had been for ten years physician and surgeon for the
poor of his parish, had an almost complete set of surgical instruments
and a well-filled medicine-chest.

\x93This evening,\x94 said he, \x93I will obtain what is needful.\x94

When night came, he put on a long blue blouse, shaded his face by an
immense slouch hat, and directed his steps toward Sairmeuse.

Not a light was visible through the windows of the presbytery; Bibiane,
the old housekeeper, must have gone out to gossip with some of the
neighbors.

The priest effected an entrance into the house, which had once been
his, by forcing the lock of the door opening on the garden; he found the
requisite articles, and retired without having been discovered.

That night the abbe hazarded a cruel but indispensable operation. His
heart trembled, but not the hand that held the knife, although he had
never before attempted so difficult a task.

\x93It is not upon my weak powers that I rely: I have placed my trust in
One who is on High.\x94

His faith was rewarded. Three days later the wounded man, after quite a
comfortable night, seemed to regain consciousness.

His first glance was for his devoted wife, who was seated by his
bedside; his first word was for his son.

\x93Maurice?\x94 he asked.

\x93Is in safety,\x94 replied the abbe. \x93He must be on the way to Turin.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval\x92s lips moved as if he were murmuring a prayer; then, in a
feeble voice:

\x93We owe you a debt of gratitude which we can never pay,\x94 he murmured,
\x93for I think I shall pull through.\x94

He did \x93pull through,\x94 but not without terrible suffering, not without
difficulties that made those around him tremble with anxiety. Jean
Lacheneur, more fortunate, was on his feet by the end of the week.

Forty days had passed, when one evening--it was the 17th of April--while
the abbe was reading a newspaper to the baron, the door gently opened
and one of the Poignot boys put in his head, then quickly withdrew it.

The priest finished the paragraph, laid down the paper, and quietly went
out.

\x93What is it?\x94 he inquired of the young man.

\x93Ah! Monsieur, Monsieur Maurice, Mademoiselle Lacheneur and the old
corporal have just arrived; they wish to come up.\x94

In three bounds the abbe descended the narrow staircase.

\x93Unfortunate creatures!\x94 he exclaimed, addressing the three imprudent
travellers, \x93what has induced you to return here?\x94

Then turning to Maurice:

\x93Is it not enough that _for_ you, and _through_ you, your father has
nearly died? Are you afraid he will not be recaptured, that you return
here to set the enemies upon his track? Depart!\x94

The poor boy, quite overwhelmed, faltered his excuse. Uncertainty seemed
to him worse than death; he had heard of M. Lacheneur\x92s execution; he
had not reflected, he would go at once; he asked only to see his father
and to embrace his mother.

The priest was inflexible.

\x93The slightest emotion might kill your father,\x94 he declared; \x93and to
tell your mother of your return, and of the dangers to which you have
foolishly exposed yourself, would cause her untold tortures. Go at once.
Cross the frontier again this very night.\x94

Jean Lacheneur, who had witnessed this scene, now approached.

\x93It is time for me to depart,\x94 said he, \x93and I entreat you to care for
my sister, the place for her is here, not upon the highways.\x94

The abbe deliberated for a moment, then he said, brusquely:

\x93So be it; but go at once; your name is not upon the proscribed list.
You will not be pursued.\x94

Thus, suddenly separated from his wife, Maurice wished to confer with
her, to give her some parting advice; but the abbe did not allow him an
opportunity.

\x93Go, go at once,\x94 he insisted. \x93Farewell!\x94

The good abbe was too hasty.

Just when Maurice stood sorely in need of wise counsel, he was thus
delivered over to the influence of Jean Lacheneur\x92s furious hatred. As
soon as they were outside:

\x93This,\x94 exclaimed Jean, \x93is the work of the Sairmeuse and the Marquis
de Courtornieu! I do not even know where they have thrown the body of
my murdered parent; you cannot even embrace the father who has been
traitorously assassinated by them!\x94

He laughed a harsh, discordant, terrible laugh, and continued:

\x93And yet, if we ascended that hill, we could see the Chateau de
Sairmeuse in the distance, brightly illuminated. They are celebrating
the marriage of Martial de Sairmeuse and Blanche de Courtornieu. _We_
are homeless wanderers without friends, and without a shelter for our
heads: _they_ are feasting and making merry.\x94

Less than this would have sufficed to rekindle the wrath of Maurice. He
forgot everything in saying to himself that to disturb this fete by his
appearance would be a vengeance worthy of him.

\x93I will go and challenge Martial now, on the instant, in the presence of
the revellers,\x94 he exclaimed.

But Jean interrupted him.

\x93No, not that! They are cowards; they would arrest you. Write; I will be
the bearer of the letter.\x94

Corporal Bavois heard them; but he did not oppose their folly. He
thought it all perfectly natural, under the circumstances, and esteemed
them the more for their rashness.

Forgetful of prudence they entered the first shop, and the challenge was
written and confided to Jean Lacheneur.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

To disturb the merrymaking at the Chateau de Sairmeuse; to change the
joy of the bridal-day into sadness; to cast a gloom over the nuptials of
Martial and Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu.

This, in truth, was all that Jean Lacheneur hoped to do.

As for believing that Martial, triumphant and happy, would accept the
challenge of Maurice, a miserable outlaw, he did not believe it.

While awaiting Martial in the vestibule of the chateau, he armed himself
against the scorn and sneers which he would probably receive from this
haughty nobleman whom he had come to insult.

But Martial\x92s kindly greeting had disconcerted him a little.

But he was reassured when he saw the terrible effect produced upon the
marquis by the insulting letter.

\x93We have cut him to the quick,\x94 he thought.

When Martial seized him by the arm and led him upstairs, he made no
resistance.

While they traversed the brightly lighted drawing-rooms and passed
through the crowd of astonished guests, Jean thought neither of his
heavy shoes nor of his peasant dress.

Breathless with anxiety, he wondered what was to come.

He soon knew.

Leaning against the gilded door-post, he witnessed the terrible scene in
the little salon.

He saw Martial de Sairmeuse, frantic with passion, cast into the face of
his father-in-law Maurice d\x92Escorval\x92s letter.

One might have supposed that all this did not affect him in the least,
he stood so cold and unmoved, with compressed lips and downcast eyes;
but appearances were deceitful. His heart throbbed with wild exultation;
and if he cast down his eyes, it was only to conceal the joy that
sparkled there.

He had not hoped for so prompt and so terrible a revenge.

Nor was this all.

After brutally repulsing Blanche, his newly wedded wife, who attempted
to detain him, Martial again seized Jean Lacheneur\x92s arm.

\x93Now,\x94 said he, \x93follow me!\x94

Jean followed him still without a word.

They again crossed the grand hall, but instead of going to the vestibule
Martial took a candle that was burning upon a side table, and opened a
little door leading to the private staircase.

\x93Where are you taking me?\x94 inquired Jean Lacheneur.

Martial, who had already ascended two or three steps, turned.

\x93Are you afraid?\x94 he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders, and coldly replied:

\x93If you put it in that way, let us go on.\x94

They entered the room which Martial had occupied since taking possession
of the chateau. It was the same room that had once belonged to Jean
Lacheneur; and nothing had been changed. He recognized the brightly
flowered curtains, the figures on the carpet, and even an old arm-chair
where he had read many a novel in secret.

Martial hastened to a small writing-desk, and took from it a paper which
he slipped into his pocket.

\x93Now,\x94 said he, \x93let us go. We must avoid another scene. My father
and--my wife will be seeking me. I will explain when we are outside.\x94

They hastily descended the staircase, passed through the gardens, and
soon reached the long avenue.

Then Jean Lacheneur suddenly paused.

\x93To come so far for a simple yes or no is, I think, unnecessary,\x94 said
he. \x93Have you decided? What answer am I to give Maurice d\x92Escorval?\x94

\x93Nothing! You will take me to him. I must see him and speak with him in
order to justify myself. Let us proceed!\x94

But Jean Lacheneur did not move.

\x93What you ask is impossible!\x94 he replied.

\x93Why?\x94

\x93Because Maurice is pursued. If he is captured, he will be tried and
undoubtedly condemned to death. He is now in a safe retreat, and I have
no right to disclose it.\x94

Maurice\x92s safe retreat was, in fact, only a neighboring wood, where in
company with the corporal, he was awaiting Jean\x92s return.

But Jean could not resist the temptation to make this response, which
was far more insulting than if he had simply said:

\x93We fear informers!\x94

Strange as it may appear to one who knew Martial\x92s proud and violent
nature, he did not resent the insult.

\x93So you distrust me!\x94 he said, sadly.

Jean Lacheneur was silent--another insult.

\x93But,\x94 insisted Martial, \x93after what you have just seen and heard you
can no longer suspect me of having cut the ropes which I carried to the
baron.\x94

\x93No! I am convinced that you are innocent of that atrocious act.\x94

\x93You saw how I punished the man who dared to compromise the honor of the
name of Sairmeuse. And this man is the father of the young girl whom I
wedded to-day.\x94

\x93I have seen all this; but I must still reply: \x91Impossible.\x92\x94

Jean was amazed at the patience, we should rather say, the humble
resignation displayed by Martial de Sairmeuse.

Instead of rebelling against this manifest injustice, Martial drew from
his pocket the paper which he had just taken from his desk, and handing
it to Jean:

\x93Those who have brought upon me the shame of having my word doubted
shall be punished for it,\x94 he said grimly. \x93You do not believe in my
sincerity, Jean. Here is a proof, which I expect you to give to Maurice,
and which cannot fail to convince even you.\x94

\x93What is this proof?\x94

\x93The letter written by my hand, in exchange for which my father assisted
in the baron\x92s escape. An inexplicable presentiment prevented me from
burning this compromising letter. To-day, I rejoice that such was the
case. Take it, and use it as you will.\x94

Anyone save Jean Lacheneur would have been touched by the generosity
of soul. But Jean was implacable. His was a nature which nothing can
disarm, which nothing can mollify; hatred in his heart was a passion
which, instead of growing weaker with time, increased and became more
terrible.

He would have sacrificed anything at that moment for the ineffable joy
of seeing this proud and detested marquis at his feet.

\x93Very well, I will give it to Maurice,\x94 he responded, coldly.

\x93It should be a bond of alliance, it seems to me,\x94 said Martial, gently.

Jean Lacheneur made a gesture terrible in its irony and menace.

\x93A bond of alliance!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93You are too fast, Monsieur le
Marquis! Have you forgotten all the blood that flows between us? You did
not cut the ropes; but who condemned the innocent Baron d\x92Escorval to
death? Was it not the Duc de Sairmeuse? An alliance! You have forgotten
that you and yours sent my father to the scaffold! How have you rewarded
the man whose heroic honesty gave you back a fortune? By murdering him,
and by ruining the reputation of his daughter.\x94

\x93I offered my name and my fortune to your sister.\x94

\x93I would have killed her with my own hand had she accepted your offer.
Let this prove to you that I do not forget. If any great disgrace ever
tarnishes the proud name of Sairmeuse, think of Jean Lacheneur. My hand
will be in it.\x94

He was so frantic with passion that he forgot his usual caution. By a
violent effort he recovered his self-possession, and in calmer tones he
added:

\x93And if you are so desirous of seeing Maurice, be at the Reche to-morrow
at mid-day. He will be there.\x94

Having said this, he turned abruptly aside, sprang over the fence
skirting the avenue, and disappeared in the darkness.

\x93Jean,\x94 cried Martial, in almost supplicating tones; \x93Jean, come
back--listen to me!\x94

No response.

A sort of bewilderment had seized the young marquis, and he stood
motionless and dazed in the middle of the road.

A horse and rider on their way to Montaignac, that nearly ran over him,
aroused him from his stupor, and the consciousness of his acts, which he
had lost while reading the letter from Maurice, came back to him.

Now he could judge of his conduct calmly.

Was it indeed he, Martial, the phlegmatic sceptic, the man who boasted
of his indifference and his insensibility, who had thus forgotten all
self-control?

Alas, yes. And when Blanche de Courtornieu, now and henceforth the
Marquise de Sairmeuse, accused Marie-Anne of being the cause of his
frenzy, she had not been entirely wrong.

Martial, who regarded the opinion of the entire world with disdain,
was rendered frantic by the thought that Marie-Anne despised him, and
considered him a traitor and a coward.

It was for her sake, that in his outburst of rage, he resolved upon
such a startling justification. And if he besought Jean to lead him to
Maurice d\x92Escorval, it was because he hoped to find Marie-Anne not far
off, and to say to her:

\x93Appearances were against me, but I am innocent; and I have proved it by
unmasking the real culprit.\x94

It was to Marie-Anne that he wished this famous letter to be given,
thinking that she, at least, could not fail to be surprised at his
generosity.

His expectations had been disappointed; and now he realized what a
terrible scandal he had created.

\x93It will be the devil to arrange!\x94 he explained; \x93but nonsense! it will
be forgotten in a month. The best way will be to face those gossips at
once: I will return immediately.\x94

He said: \x93I will return,\x94 in the most deliberate manner; but in
proportion as he neared the chateau, his courage failed him.

The guests must have departed ere this, and Martial concluded that he
would probably find himself alone with his young wife, his father, and
the Marquis de Courtornieu. What reproaches, tears, anger and threats he
would be obliged to encounter.

\x93No,\x94 he muttered. \x93I am not such a fool! Let them have a night to calm
themselves. I will not appear until to-morrow.\x94

But where should he pass the night? He was in evening dress and
bareheaded; he began to feel cold. The house belonging to the duke in
Montaignac would afford him a refuge.

\x93I shall find a bed, some servants, a fire, and a change of clothing
there--and to-morrow, a horse to return.\x94

It was quite a distance to walk; but in his present mood this did not
displease him.

The servant who came to open the door when he rapped, was speechless
with astonishment on recognizing him.

\x93You, Monsieur!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Yes, it is I. Light a good fire in the drawing-room for me, and bring
me a change of clothing.\x94

The valet obeyed, and soon Martial found himself alone, stretched upon a
sofa before the cheerful blaze.

\x93It would be a good thing to sleep and forget my troubles,\x94 he said to
himself.

He tried; but it was not until early morning that he fell into a
feverish slumber.

He awoke about nine o\x92clock, ordered breakfast, concluded to return to
Sairmeuse, and he was eating with a good appetite, when suddenly:

\x93Have a horse saddled instantly!\x94 he exclaimed.

He had just remembered the rendezvous with Maurice. Why should he not go
there?

He set out at once, and thanks to a spirited horse, he reached the Reche
at half-past eleven o\x92clock.

The others had not yet arrived; he fastened his horse to a tree near by,
and leisurely climbed to the summit of the hill.

This spot had been the site of Lacheneur\x92s house. The four walls
remained standing, blackened by fire.

Martial was contemplating the ruins, not without deep emotion, when he
heard a sharp crackling in the underbrush.

He turned; Maurice, Jean, and Corporal Bavois were approaching.

The old soldier carried under his arm a long and narrow package,
enveloped in a piece of green serge. It contained the swords which Jean
Lacheneur had gone to Montaignac during the night to procure from a
retired officer.

\x93We are sorry to have kept you waiting,\x94 began Maurice, \x93but you will
observe that it is not yet midday. Since we scarcely expected to see
you----\x94

\x93I was too anxious to justify myself not to be here early,\x94 interrupted
Martial.

Maurice shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

\x93It is not a question of self-justification, but of fighting,\x94 he said,
in a tone rude even to insolence.

Insulting as were the words and the gesture that accompanied them,
Martial never so much as winced.

\x93Sorrow has rendered you unjust,\x94 said he, gently, \x93or Monsieur
Lacheneur here has told you nothing.\x94

\x93Jean has told me all.\x94

\x93Well, then?\x94

Martial\x92s coolness drove Maurice frantic.

\x93Well,\x94 he replied, with extreme violence, \x93my hatred is unabated even
if my scorn is diminished. You have owed me an opportunity to avenge
myself, Monsieur, ever since the day we met on the square at Sairmeuse
in the presence of Mademoiselle Lacheneur. You said to me on that
occasion: \x91We shall meet again.\x92 Here we stand now face to face. What
insults must I heap upon you to decide you to fight?\x94

A flood of crimson dyed Martial\x92s face. He seized one of the swords
which Bavois offered him, and assumed an attitude of defence.

\x93You will have it so,\x94 said he in a husky voice. \x93The thought of
Marie-Anne can no longer save you.\x94

But the blades had scarcely crossed before a cry from Jean and from
Corporal Bavois arrested the combat.

\x93The soldiers!\x94 they exclaimed; \x93let us fly!\x94

A dozen soldiers were indeed approaching at the top of their speed.

\x93Ah! I spoke the truth!\x94 exclaimed Maurice. \x93The coward came, but the
gendarmes accompanied him.\x94

He bounded back, and breaking his sword over his knee, he hurled the
fragments in Martial\x92s face, saying:

\x93Here, miserable wretch!\x94

\x93Wretch!\x94 repeated Jean and Corporal Bavois, \x93traitor! coward!\x94

And they fled, leaving Martial thunderstruck.

He struggled hard to regain his composure. The soldiers were very near;
he ran to meet them, and addressing the officer in command, he said,
imperiously:

\x93Do you know who I am?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 replied the sergeant, respectfully, \x93you are the son of the Duc
de Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93Very well! I forbid you to follow those men.\x94

The sergeant hesitated at first; then, in a decided tone, he replied:

\x93I cannot obey you, sir. I have my orders.\x94

And addressing his men:

\x93Forward!\x94 he exclaimed. He was about to set the example, when Martial
seized him by the arm.

\x93At least you will not refuse to tell me who sent you here?\x94

\x93Who sent us? The colonel, of course, in obedience to orders from the
_grand prevot_, Monsieur de Courtornieu. He sent the order last
night. We have been hidden in that grove since daybreak. But release
me--_tonnerre_! would you have my expedition fail entirely?\x94

He hurried away, and Martial, staggering like a drunken man, descended
the slope, and remounted his horse.

But he did not repair to the Chateau de Sairmeuse; he returned to
Montaignac, and passed the remainder of the afternoon in the solitude of
his own room.

That evening he sent two letters to Sairmeuse. One to his father, the
other to his wife.



CHAPTER XXXIX

Terrible as Martial imagined the scandal to be which he had created, his
conception of it by no means equalled the reality.

Had a thunder-bolt burst beneath that roof, the guests at Sairmeuse
could not have been more amazed and horrified.

A shudder passed over the assembly when Martial, terrible in his
passion, flung the crumbled letter full in the face of the Marquis de
Courtornieu.

And when the marquis sank half-fainting into an arm-chair some young
ladies of extreme sensibility could not repress a cry of fear.

For twenty seconds after Martial disappeared with Jean Lacheneur, the
guests stood as motionless as statues, pale, mute, stupefied.

It was Blanche who broke the spell.

While the Marquis de Courtornieu was panting for breath--while the Duc
de Sairmeuse was trembling and speechless with suppressed anger, the
young marquise made an heroic attempt to come to the rescue.

With her hand still aching from Martial\x92s brutal clasp, a heart swelling
with rage and hatred, and a face whiter than her bridal veil, she had
strength to restrain her tears and to compel her lips to smile.

\x93Really this is placing too much importance on a trifling
misunderstanding which will be explained to-morrow,\x94 she said, almost
gayly, to those nearest her.

And stepping into the middle of the hall she made a sign to the
musicians to play a country-dance.

But when the first measures floated through the air, the company, as if
by unanimous consent, hastened toward the door.

One might have supposed the chateau on fire--the guests did not
withdraw, they actually fled.

An hour before, the Marquis de Courtornieu and the Duc de Sairmeuse had
been overwhelmed with the most obsequious homage and adulation.

But now there was not one in that assembly daring enough to take them
openly by the hand.

Just when they believed themselves all-powerful they were rudely
precipitated from their lordly eminence. Disgrace and perhaps punishment
were to be their portion.

Heroic to the last, the bride endeavored to stay the tide of retreating
guests.

Stationing herself near the door, with her most bewitching smile upon
her lips, Madame Blanche spared neither flattering words nor entreaties
in her efforts to reassure the deserters.

Vain attempt! Useless sacrifice! Many ladies were not sorry of an
opportunity to repay the young Marquise de Sairmeuse for the disdain and
the caustic words of Blanche de Courtornieu.

Soon all the guests, who had so eagerly presented themselves that
morning, had disappeared, and there remained only one old gentleman who,
on account of his gout, had deemed it prudent not to mingle with the
crowd.

He bowed in passing before the young marquise, and blushing at this
insult to a woman, he departed as the others had done.

Blanche was now alone. There was no longer any necessity for constraint.
There were no more curious witnesses to enjoy her sufferings and to make
comment upon them. With a furious gesture she tore her bridal veil and
the wreath of orange flowers from her head, and trampled them under
foot.

A servant was passing through the hall; she stopped him.

\x93Extinguish the lights everywhere!\x94 she ordered, with an angry stamp
of her foot as if she had been in her own father\x92s house, and not at
Sairmeuse.

He obeyed her, and then, with flashing eyes and dishevelled hair, she
hastened to the little salon in which the _denouement_ had taken place.

A crowd of servants surrounded the marquis, who was lying like one
stricken with apoplexy.

\x93All the blood in his body has flown to his head,\x94 remarked the duke,
with a shrug of his shoulders.

For the duke was furious with his former friends.

He scarcely knew with whom he was most angry, Martial or the Marquis de
Courtornieu.

Martial, by this public confession, had certainly imperilled, if he had
not ruined, their political future.

But, on the other hand, had not the Marquis de Courtornieu represented
a Sairmeuse as being guilty of an act of treason revolting to any
honorable heart?

Buried in a large arm-chair, he sat watching, with contracted brows, the
movements of the servants, when his daughter-in-law entered the room.

She paused before him, and with arms folded tightly across her breast,
she said, angrily:

\x93Why did you remain here while I was left alone to endure such
humiliation? Ah! had I been a man! All our guests have fled,
Monsieur--all!\x94

M. de Sairmeuse sprang up.

\x93Ah, well! what if they have? Let them go to the devil!\x94

Of the guests that had just left his house there was not one whom the
duke really regretted--not one whom he regarded as an equal. In giving
a marriage-feast for his son, he had bidden all the gentry of the
neighborhood. They had come--very well! They had fled--_bon voyage_!

If the duke cared at all for their desertion, it was only because it
presaged with terrible eloquence the disgrace that was to come.

Still he tried to deceive himself.

\x93They will return, Madame; you will see them return, humble and
repentant! But where can Martial be?\x94

The lady\x92s eyes flashed, but she made no reply.

\x93Did he go away with the son of that rascal, Lacheneur?\x94

\x93I believe so.\x94

\x93It will not be long before he returns----\x94

\x93Who can say?\x94

M. de Sairmeuse struck the marble mantel heavily with his clinched fist.

\x93My God!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93this is an overwhelming misfortune.\x94

The young wife believed that he was anxious and angry on her account.
But she was mistaken. He was thinking only of his disappointed ambition.

Whatever he might pretend, the duke secretly confessed his son\x92s
superiority and his genius for intrigue, and he was now extremely
anxious to consult him.

\x93He has wrought this evil; it is for him to repair it! And he is capable
of it if he chooses,\x94 he murmured.

Then, aloud, he resumed:

\x93Martial must be found--he must be found----\x94

With an angry gesture, Blanche interrupted him.

\x93You must seek Marie-Anne if you wish to find--my husband.\x94

The duke was of the same opinion, but he dared not avow it.

\x93Anger leads you astray, Marquise,\x94 said he.

\x93I know what I know.\x94

\x93Martial will soon make his appearance, believe me. If he went away, he
will soon return. They shall go for him at once, or I will go for him
myself----\x94

He left the room with a muttered oath, and Blanche approached her
father, who still seemed to be unconscious.

She seized his arm and shook it roughly, saying, in the most peremptory
tone:

\x93Father! father!\x94

This voice, which had so often made the Marquis de Courtornieu tremble,
was far more efficacious than eau de cologne. He opened one eye the
least bit in the world, then quickly closed it; but not so quickly that
his daughter failed to discover it.

\x93I wish to speak with you,\x94 she said; \x93get up.\x94

He dared not disobey, and slowly and with difficulty, he raised himself.

\x93Ah! how I suffer!\x94 he groaned; \x93how I suffer!\x94

His daughter glanced at him scornfully; then, in a tone of bitter irony,
she remarked:

\x93Do you think I am in Paradise?\x94

\x93Speak,\x94 sighed the marquis. \x93What do you wish to say?\x94

The bride turned haughtily to the servants.

\x93Leave the room!\x94 she said, imperiously.

They obeyed, and, after she had locked the door:

\x93Let us speak of Martial,\x94 she began.

At the sound of this name, the marquis bounded from his chair with
clinched fists.

\x93Ah, the wretch!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Martial is my husband, father.\x94

\x93And you!--after what he has done--you dare to defend him?\x94

\x93I do not defend him; but I do not wish him to be murdered.\x94

At that moment the news of Martial\x92s death would have given the Marquis
de Courtornieu infinite satisfaction.

\x93You heard, father,\x94 continued Blanche, \x93the rendezvous appointed
to-morrow, at mid-day, on the Reche. I know Martial; he has been
insulted, and he will go there. Will he encounter a loyal adversary? No.
He will find a crowd of assassins. You alone can prevent him from being
assassinated.\x94

\x93I! and how?\x94

\x93By sending some soldiers to the Reche, with orders to conceal
themselves in the grove--with orders to arrest these murderers at the
proper moment.\x94

The marquis gravely shook his head.

\x93If I do that,\x94 said he, \x93Martial is quite capable--\x94

\x93Of anything! yes, I know it. But what does it matter to you, since I am
willing to assume the responsibility?\x94

M. de Courtornieu vainly tried to penetrate the bride\x92s real motive.

\x93The order to Montaignac must be sent at once,\x94 she insisted.

Had she been less excited she would have discerned the gleam of malice
in her father\x92s eye. He was thinking that this would afford him an ample
revenge, since he could bring dishonor upon Martial, who had shown so
little regard for the honor of others.

\x93Very well; since you will have it so,\x94 he said, with feigned
reluctance.

His daughter made haste to bring him ink and pens, and with trembling
hands he prepared a series of minute instructions for the commander at
Montaignac.

Blanche herself gave the letter to a servant, with directions to depart
at once; and it was not until she had seen him set off on a gallop that
she went to her own apartments--the apartments in which Martial had
gathered together all that was most beautiful and luxurious.

But this splendor only aggravated the misery of the deserted wife, for
that she was deserted she did not doubt for a moment. She was sure that
her husband would not return; she did not expect him.

The Duc de Sairmeuse was searching the neighborhood with a party of
servants, but she knew that it was labor lost; that they would not
encounter Martial.

Where could he be? Near Marie-Anne most assuredly--and at the thought a
wild desire to wreak her vengeance on her rival took possession of her
heart.

Martial, at Montaignac, had ended by going to sleep.

Blanche, when daylight came, exchanged the snowy bridal robes for a
black dress, and wandered about the garden like a restless spirit.

She spent most of the day shut up in her room, refusing to allow the
duke, or even her father, to enter.

In the evening, about eight o\x92clock, they received tidings from Martial.

A servant brought two letters; one, sent by Martial to his father, the
other, to his wife.

For a moment or more Blanche hesitated to open the one intended for her.
It would determine her destiny; she was afraid; she broke the seal and
read:


\x93Madame la marquise--Between you and me all is ended; reconciliation is
impossible.

\x93From this moment you are free. I esteem you enough to hope that you
will respect the name of Sairmeuse, from which I cannot relieve you.

\x93You will agree with me, I am sure, in thinking a quiet separation
preferable to the scandal of a divorce suit.

\x93My lawyer will pay you an allowance befitting the wife of a man whose
income amounts to three hundred thousand francs.

\x93Martial de Sairmeuse.\x94


Blanche staggered beneath this terrible blow. She was indeed deserted,
and deserted, as she supposed, for another.

\x93Ah!\x94 she exclaimed, \x93that creature! that creature! I will kill her!\x94



CHAPTER XL

The twenty-four hours which Blanche had spent in measuring the extent of
her terrible misfortune, the duke had spent in raving and swearing.

He had not even thought of going to bed.

After his fruitless search for his son he returned to the chateau, and
began a continuous tramp to and fro in the great hall.

He was almost sinking from weariness when his son\x92s letter was handed
him.

It was very brief.

Martial did not vouchsafe any explanation; he did not even mention the
rupture between his wife and himself.


\x93I cannot return to Sairmeuse,\x94 he wrote, \x93and yet it is of the utmost
importance that I should see you.

\x93You will, I trust, approve my determinations when I explain the reasons
that have guided me in making them.

\x93Come to Montaignac, then, the sooner the better. I am waiting for you.\x94


Had he listened to the prompting of his impatience, the duke would
have started at once. But how could he thus abandon the Marquis de
Courtornieu, who had accepted his hospitality, and especially Blanche,
his son\x92s wife?

He must, at least, see them, speak to them, and warn them of his
intended departure.

He attempted this in vain. Mme. Blanche had shut herself up in her own
apartments, and remained deaf to all entreaties for admittance. Her
father had been put to bed, and the physician who had been summoned to
attend him, declared the marquis to be at death\x92s door.

The duke was therefore obliged to resign himself to the prospect of
another night of suspense, which was almost intolerable to a character
like his.

\x93To-morrow, after breakfast, I will find some pretext to escape, without
telling them I am going to see Martial,\x94 he thought.

He was spared this trouble. The next morning, at about nine o\x92clock,
while he was dressing, a servant came to inform him that M. de
Courtornieu and his daughter were awaiting him in the drawing-room.

Much surprised, he hastened down.

When he entered the room, the marquis, who was seated in an arm-chair,
rose, leaning heavily upon the shoulder of Aunt Medea.

Mme. Blanche came rapidly forward to meet the duke, as pale as if every
drop of blood had been drawn from her veins.

\x93We are going, Monsieur le Duc,\x94 she said, coldly, \x93and we wish to make
our adieux.\x94

\x93What! you are going? Will you not----\x94

The young bride interrupted him by a sad gesture, and drawing Martial\x92s
letter from her bosom, she handed it to M. de Sairmeuse, saying.

\x93Will you do me the favor to peruse this, Monsieur?\x94

The duke glanced over the short epistle, and his astonishment was so
intense that he could not even find an oath.

\x93Incomprehensible!\x94 he faltered; \x93incomprehensible!\x94

\x93Incomprehensible, indeed,\x94 repeated the young wife, sadly, but without
bitterness. \x93I was married yesterday; to-day I am deserted. It would
have been generous to have reflected the evening before and not the next
day. Tell Martial, however, that I forgive him for having destroyed my
life, for having made me the most miserable of creatures. I also forgive
him for the supreme insult of speaking to me of his fortune. I trust he
may be happy. Adieu, Monsieur le Duc, we shall never meet again. Adieu!\x94

She took her father\x92s arm, and they were about to retire, when M. de
Sairmeuse hastily threw himself between them and the door.

\x93You shall not depart thus!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93I will not suffer it. Wait,
at least, until I have seen Martial. Perhaps he is not as culpable as
you suppose--\x94

\x93Enough!\x94 interrupted the marquis; \x93enough! This is one of those
outrages which can never be repaired. May your conscience forgive you,
as I, myself, forgive you. Farewell!\x94

This was said so perfectly, with such entire harmony of intonation and
gesture, that M. de Sairmeuse was bewildered.

With an absolutely wonderstruck air he watched the marquis and his
daughter depart, and they had been gone some moments before he recovered
himself sufficiently to exclaim:

\x93Old hypocrite! does he believe me his dupe?\x94

His dupe! M. de Sairmeuse was so far from being his dupe, that his next
thought was:

\x93What is to follow this farce? He says that he pardons us--that means
that he has some crushing blow in store for us.\x94

This conviction filled him with disquietude. He really felt unable to
cope successfully with the perfidious marquis.

\x93But Martial is a match for him!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Yes, I must see Martial
at once.\x94

So great was his anxiety that he lent a helping hand in harnessing the
horses he had ordered, and when the carriage was ready, he announced his
determination to drive himself.

As he urged the horses furiously on he tried to reflect, but the most
contradictory ideas seethed in his brain, and he lost all power to
consider the situation calmly.

He burst into Martial\x92s room like a tornado. \x93I think you must certainly
have gone mad, Marquis,\x94 he exclaimed. \x93That is the only valid excuse
you can offer.\x94

But Martial, who had been expecting this visit, had prepared himself for
it.

\x93Never, on the contrary, have I felt more calm and composed in mind,\x94
 he replied. \x93Allow me to ask you one question. Was it you who sent the
soldiers to the rendezvous which Maurice d\x92Escorval had appointed?\x94

\x93Marquis!\x94

\x93Very well! Then it was another act of infamy on the part of the Marquis
de Courtornieu.\x94

The duke made no reply. In spite of his faults and his vices,
this haughty man possessed the characteristic of the old French
nobility--fidelity to his word and undoubted valor.

He thought it perfectly natural, even necessary, that Martial should
fight with Maurice; and he thought it a contemptible act to send armed
soldiers to seize an honest and confiding opponent.

\x93This is the second time,\x94 pursued Martial, \x93that this scoundrel has
attempted to bring dishonor upon our name; and if I desire to convince
people of the truth of this assertion, I must break off all connection
with him and his daughter. I have done this. I do not regret it, since I
married her only out of deference to your wishes, and because it seemed
necessary for me to marry, and because all women, save one who can never
be mine, are alike to me.\x94

Such utterances were not at all calculated to reassure the duke.

\x93This sentiment is very noble, no doubt,\x94 said he; \x93but it has none the
less ruined the political prospects of our house.\x94

An almost imperceptible smile curved Martial\x92s lips.

\x93I believe, on the contrary, that I have saved them,\x94 he replied.

\x93It is useless for us to attempt to deceive ourselves; this whole affair
of the insurrection has been abominable, and you have good reason to
bless the opportunity of freeing yourself from the responsibility of it
which this quarrel gives you. With a little address, you can throw all
the odium upon the Marquis de Courtornieu, and keep for yourself only
the prestige of valuable service rendered.\x94

The duke\x92s face brightened.

\x93Zounds, Marquis!\x94 he exclaimed; \x93that is a good idea! In the future I
shall be infinitely less afraid of Courtornieu.\x94

Martial remained thoughtful.

\x93It is not the Marquis de Courtornieu whom I fear,\x94 he murmured, \x93but
his daughter--my wife.\x94



CHAPTER XLI

One must have lived in the country to know with what inconceivable
rapidity news flies from mouth to mouth.

Strange as it may seem, the news of the scene at the chateau reached
Father Poignot\x92s farm-house that same evening.

It had not been three hours since Maurice, Jean Lacheneur and Bavois
left the house, promising to re-cross the frontier that same night.

Abbe Midon had decided to say nothing to M. d\x92Escorval of his son\x92s
return, and to conceal Marie-Anne\x92s presence in the house. The baron\x92s
condition was so critical that the merest trifle might turn the scale.

About ten o\x92clock the baron fell asleep, and the abbe and Mme.
d\x92Escorval went downstairs to talk with Marie-Anne. As they were sitting
there Poignot\x92s eldest son entered in a state of great excitement.

After supper he had gone with some of his acquaintances to admire
the splendors of the fete, and he now came rushing back to relate the
strange events of the evening to his father\x92s guests.

\x93It is inconceivable!\x94 murmured the abbe.

He knew but too well, and the others comprehended it likewise, that
these strange events rendered their situation more perilous than ever.

\x93I cannot understand how Maurice could commit such an act of folly after
what I had just said to him. The baron\x92s most cruel enemy has been his
own son. We must wait until to-morrow before deciding upon anything.\x94

The next day they heard of the meeting at the Reche. A peasant who, from
a distance, had witnessed the preliminaries of the duel which had not
been fought, was able to give them the fullest details.

He had seen the two adversaries take their places, then the soldiers run
to the spot, and afterward pursue Maurice, Jean and Bavois.

But he was sure that the soldiers had not overtaken them. He had met
them five hours afterward, harassed and furious; and the officer in
charge of the expedition declared their failure to be the fault of the
Marquis de Sairmeuse, who had detained them.

That same day Father Poignot informed the abbe that the Duc de Sairmeuse
and the Marquis de Courtornieu were at variance. It was the talk of the
country. The marquis had returned to his chateau, accompanied by his
daughter, and the duke had gone to Montaignac.

The abbe\x92s anxiety on receiving this intelligence was so poignant that
he could not conceal it from Baron d\x92Escorval.

\x93You have heard something, my friend,\x94 said the baron.

\x93Nothing, absolutely nothing.\x94

\x93Some new danger threatens us.\x94

\x93None, I swear it.\x94

The priest\x92s protestations did not convince the baron.

\x93Oh, do not deny it!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Night before last, when you entered
my room after I awoke, you were paler than death, and my wife had
certainly been crying. What does all this mean?\x94

Usually, when the cure did not wish to reply to the sick man\x92s
questions, it was sufficient to tell him that conversation and
excitement would retard his recovery; but this time the baron was not so
docile.

\x93It will be very easy for you to restore my tranquillity,\x94 he said.
\x93Confess now, that you are trembling lest they discover my retreat.
This fear is torturing me also. Very well, swear to me that you will not
allow them to take me alive, and then my mind will be at rest.\x94

\x93I cannot take such an oath as that,\x94 said the cure, turning pale.

\x93And why?\x94 insisted M. d\x92Escorval. \x93If I am recaptured, what will
happen? They will nurse me, and then, as soon as I can stand upon my
feet, they will shoot me down. Would it be a crime to save me from
such suffering? You are my best friend; swear to render me this supreme
service. Would you have me curse you for saving my life?\x94

The abbe made no response; but his eye, voluntarily or involuntarily,
turned with a peculiar expression to the box of medicine standing upon
the table near by.

Did he wish to be understood as saying:

\x93I will do nothing; but you will find a poison there.\x94

M. d\x92Escorval understood it in this way, for it was with an accent of
gratitude that he murmured:

\x93Thanks!\x94

Now that he felt that he was master of his life he breathed more freely.
From that moment his condition, so long desperate, began to improve.

\x93I can defy all my enemies from this hour,\x94 he said, with a gayety which
certainly was not feigned.

Day after day passed and the abbe\x92s sinister apprehensions were not
realized; he, too, began to regain confidence.

Instead of causing an increase of severity, Maurice\x92s and Jean
Lacheneur\x92s frightful imprudence had been, as it were, the point of
departure for a universal indulgence.

One might reasonably have supposed that the authorities of Montaignac
had forgotten, and desired to have forgotten, if that were possible,
Lacheneur\x92s conspiracy, and the abominable slaughter for which it had
been made the pretext.

They soon heard at the farm that Maurice and the brave corporal had
succeeded in reaching Piedmont.

No allusion was made to Jean Lacheneur, so it was supposed that he had
not left the country; but they had no reason to fear for his safety,
since he was not upon the proscribed list.

Later, it was rumored that the Marquis de Courtornieu was ill, and that
Mme. Blanche did not leave his bedside.

Soon afterward, Father Poignot, on returning from Montaignac, reported
that the duke had just passed a week in Paris, and that he was now on
his way home with one more decoration--another proof of royal favor--and
that he had succeeded in obtaining an order for the release of all the
conspirators, who were now in prison.

It was impossible to doubt this intelligence, for the Montaignac papers
mentioned this fact, with all the circumstances on the following day.

The abbe attributed this sudden and happy change entirely to the rupture
between the duke and the marquis, and this was the universal opinion in
the neighborhood. Even the retired officers remarked:

\x93The duke is decidedly better than he is supposed to be, and if he has
been severe, it is only because he was influenced by that odious Marquis
de Courtornieu.\x94

Marie-Anne alone suspected the truth. A secret presentiment told her
that it was Martial de Sairmeuse who had shaken off his wonted apathy,
and was working these changes and using and abusing his ascendancy over
the mind of his father.

\x93And it is for your sake,\x94 whispered an inward voice, \x93that Martial is
thus working. What does this careless egotist care for these obscure
peasants, whose names he does not even know? If he protects them, it is
only that he may have a right to protect you, and those whom you love!\x94

With these thoughts in her mind, she could not but feel her aversion to
Martial diminish.

Was not such conduct truly heroic in a man whose dazzling offers she had
refused? Was there not real moral grandeur in the feeling that induced
Martial to reveal a secret which might ruin the political fortunes of
his house, rather than be suspected of an unworthy action? And still
the thought of this _grande passion_ which she had inspired in so truly
great a man never once made her heart quicken its throbbing.

Alas! nothing was capable of touching her heart now; nothing seemed to
reach her through the gloomy sadness that enveloped her.

She was but the ghost of the formerly beautiful and radiant Marie-Anne.
Her quick, alert tread had become slow and dragging, often she sat for
whole days motionless in her chair, her eyes fixed upon vacancy, her
lips contracted as if by a spasm, while great tears rolled silently down
her cheeks.

Abbe Midon, who was greatly disquieted on her account, often attempted
to question her.

\x93You are suffering, my child,\x94 he said, kindly. \x93What is the matter?\x94

\x93I am not ill, Monsieur.\x94

\x93Why do you not confide in me? Am I not your friend? What do you fear?\x94

She shook her head sadly and replied:

\x93I have nothing to confide.\x94

She said this, and yet she was dying of sorrow and anguish.

Faithful to the promise she had made Maurice, she had said nothing of
her condition, or of the marriage solemnized in the little church at
Vigano. And she saw with inexpressible terror, the approach of
the moment when she could no longer keep her secret. Her agony was
frightful; but what could she do!

Fly? but where should she go? And by going, would she not lose all
chance of hearing from Maurice, which was the only hope that sustained
her in this trying hour?

She had almost determined on flight when circumstances--providentially,
it seemed to her--came to her aid.

Money was needed at the farm. The guests were unable to obtain any
without betraying their whereabouts, and Father Poignot\x92s little store
was almost exhausted.

Abbe Midon was wondering what they were to do, when Marie-Anne told him
of the will which Chanlouineau had made in her favor, and of the money
concealed beneath the hearth-stone in the best chamber.

\x93I might go to the Borderie at night,\x94 suggested Marie-Anne, \x93enter the
house, which is unoccupied, obtain the money and bring it here. I have a
right to do so, have I not?\x94

But the priest did not approve this step.

\x93You might be seen,\x94 said he, \x93and who knows--perhaps arrested. If you
were questioned, what plausible explanation could you give?\x94

\x93What shall I do, then?\x94

\x93Act openly; you are not compromised. Make your appearance in Sairmeuse
to-morrow as if you had just returned from Piedmont; go to the notary,
take possession of your property, and install yourself at the Borderie.\x94

Marie-Anne shuddered.

\x93Live in Chanlouineau\x92s house,\x94 she faltered. \x93I alone!\x94

\x93Heaven will protect you, my dear child. I can see only advantages in
your installation at the Borderie. It will be easy to communicate with
you; and with ordinary precautions there can be no danger. Before your
departure we will decide upon a place of rendezvous, and two or three
times a week you can meet Father Poignot there. And, in the course of
two or three months you can be still more useful to us. When people have
become accustomed to your residence at the Borderie, we will take the
baron there. His convalescence will be much more rapid there, than here
in this cramped and narrow loft, where we are obliged to conceal him
now, and where he is really suffering for light and air.\x94

So it was decided that Father Poignot should accompany Marie-Anne to the
frontier that very night; there she would take the diligence that
ran between Piedmont and Montaignac, passing through the village of
Sairmeuse.

It was with the greatest care that the abbe dictated to Marie-Anne the
story she was to tell of her sojourn in foreign lands. All that she
said, and all her answers to questions must tend to prove that Baron
d\x92Escorval was concealed near Turin.

The plan was carried out in every particular; and the next day, about
eight o\x92clock, the people of Sairmeuse were greatly astonished to see
Marie-Anne alight from the diligence.

\x93Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s daughter has returned!\x94

The words flew from lip to lip with marvellous rapidity, and soon all
the inhabitants of the village were gathered at the doors and windows.

They saw the poor girl pay the driver, and enter the inn, followed by a
boy bearing a small trunk.

In the city, curiosity has some shame; it hides itself while it spies
into the affairs of its neighbors; but in the country it has no such
scruples.

When Marie-Anne emerged from the inn, she found a crowd awaiting her
with open mouths and staring eyes.

And more than twenty people making all sorts of comments, followed her
to the door of the notary.

He was a man of importance, this notary, and he welcomed Marie-Anne with
all the deference due an heiress of an unencumbered property, worth from
forty to fifty thousand francs.

But jealous of his renown for perspicuity, he gave her clearly to
understand that he, being a man of experience, had divined that love
alone had dictated Chanlouineau\x92s last will and testament.

Marie-Anne\x92s composure and resignation made him really angry.

\x93You forget what brings me here,\x94 she said; \x93you do not tell me what I
have to do!\x94

The notary, thus interrupted, made no further attempts at consolation.

\x93_Pestet!_\x94 he thought, \x93she is in a hurry to get possession of her
property--the avaricious creature!\x94

Then aloud:

\x93The business can be terminated at once, for the justice of the peace
is at liberty to-day, and he can go with us to break the seals this
afternoon.\x94

So, before evening, all the legal requirements were complied with, and
Marie-Anne was formally installed at the Borderie.

She was alone in Chanlouineau\x92s house--alone! Night came on and a great
terror seized her heart. It seemed to her that the doors were about to
open, that this man who had loved her so much would appear before her,
and that she would hear his voice as she heard it for the last time in
his grim prison-cell.

She fought against these foolish fears, lit a lamp, and went through
this house--now hers--in which everything spoke so forcibly of its
former owner.

Slowly she examined the different rooms on the lower floor, noting the
recent repairs which had been made and the conveniences which had been
added, and at last she ascended to that room above which Chanlouineau
had made the tabernacle of his passion.

Here, everything was magnificent, far more so than his words had led her
to suppose. The poor peasant who made his breakfast off a crust and a
bit of onion had lavished a small fortune on the decorations of this
apartment, designed as a sanctuary for his idol.

\x93How he loved me!\x94 murmured Marie-Anne, moved by that emotion, the bare
thought of which had awakened the jealousy of Maurice.

But she had neither the time nor the right to yield to her feelings.
Father Poignot was doubtless, even then, awaiting her at the rendezvous.

She lifted the hearth-stone, and found the sum of money which
Chanlouineau had named.

The next morning, when he awoke, the abbe received the money.

Now, Marie-Anne could breathe freely; and this peace, after so many
trials and agitations, seemed to her almost happiness.

Faithful to the abbe\x92s instructions, she lived alone; but, by frequent
visits, she accustomed the people of the neighborhood to her presence.

Yes, she would have been almost happy, could she have had news of
Maurice. What had become of him? Why did he give no sign of life? What
would she not have given in exchange for some word of counsel and of
love from him?

The time was fast approaching when she would require a confidant; and
there was no one in whom she could confide.

In this hour of extremity, when she really felt that her reason was
failing her, she remembered the old physician at Vigano, who had been
one of the witnesses to her marriage.

\x93He would help me if I called upon him for aid,\x94 she thought.

She had no time to temporize or to reflect; she wrote to him
immediately, giving the letter in charge of a youth in the neighborhood.

\x93The gentleman says you may rely upon him,\x94 said the messenger on his
return.

That very evening Marie-Anne heard someone rap at her door. It was the
kind-hearted old man who had come to her relief.

He remained at the Borderie nearly a fortnight.

When he departed one morning, before daybreak, he took away with him
under his large cloak an infant--a boy--whom he had sworn to cherish as
his own child.



CHAPTER XLII

To quit Sairmeuse without any display of violence had cost Blanche an
almost superhuman effort.

The wildest anger convulsed her soul at the very moment, when, with
an assumption of melancholy dignity, she murmured those words of
forgiveness.

Ah! had she obeyed the dictates of her resentment!

But her indomitable vanity aroused within her the heroism of a gladiator
dying on the arena, with a smile upon his lips.

Falling, she intended to fall gracefully.

\x93No one shall see me weep; no one shall hear me complain,\x94 she said to
her despondent father; \x93try to imitate me.\x94

And on her return to the Chateau de Courtornieu, she was a stoic.

Her face, although pale, was as immobile as marble, beneath the curious
gaze of the servants.

\x93I am to be called mademoiselle as in the past,\x94 she said, imperiously.
\x93Anyone forgetting this order will be dismissed.\x94

A maid forgot that very day, and uttered the prohibited word, \x93madame.\x94
 The poor girl was instantly dismissed, in spite of her tears and
protestations.

All the servants were indignant.

\x93Does she hope to make us forget that she is married and that her
husband has deserted her?\x94 they queried.

Alas! she wished to forget it herself. She wished to annihilate all
recollection of that fatal day whose sun had seen her a maiden, a wife,
and a widow.

For was she not really a widow?

Only it was not death which had deprived her of her husband, but an
odious rival--an infamous and perfidious creature lost to all sense of
shame.

And yet, though she had been disdained, abandoned, and repulsed, she was
no longer free.

She belonged to the man whose name she bore like a badge of
servitude--to the man who hated her, who fled from her.

She was not yet twenty; and this was the end of her youth, of her life,
of her hopes, and even of her dreams.

Society condemned her to solitude, while Martial was free to rove
wheresoever fancy might lead him.

Now she saw the disadvantage of isolating one\x92s self. She had not been
without friends in her school-girl days; but after leaving the convent
she had alienated them by her haughtiness, on finding them not as high
in rank, nor as rich as herself. She was now reduced to the irritating
consolations of Aunt Medea, who was a worthy person, undoubtedly, but
her tears flowed quite as freely for the loss of a cat, as for the death
of a relative.

But Blanche bravely resolved that she would conceal her grief and
despair in the recesses of her own heart.

She drove about the country; she wore the prettiest dresses in her
_trousseau_; she forced herself to appear gay and indifferent.

But on going to attend high mass in Sairmeuse the following Sunday, she
realized the futility of her efforts.

People did not look at her haughtily, or even curiously; but they turned
away their heads to laugh, and she overheard remarks upon the maiden
widow which pierced her very soul.

They mocked her; they ridiculed her!

\x93Oh! I will have my revenge!\x94 she muttered.

But she had not waited for these insults before thinking of vengeance;
and she had found her father quite ready to assist her in her plans.

For the first time the father and the daughter were in accord.

\x93The Duc de Sairmeuse shall learn what it costs to aid in the escape
of a prisoner and to insult a man like me. Fortune, favor, position--he
shall lose all! I hope to see him ruined and dishonored at my feet.
You shall see that day! you shall see that day!\x94 said the marquis,
vehemently.

But, unfortunately for him and his plans, he was extremely ill for three
days, after the scene at Sairmeuse; then he wasted three days more in
composing a report, which was intended to crush his former ally.

This delay ruined him, since it gave Martial time to perfect his plans
and to send the Duc de Sairmeuse to Paris skilfully indoctrinated.

And what did the duke say to the King, who accorded him such a gracious
reception?

He undoubtedly pronounced the first reports false, reduced the
Montaignac revolution to its proper proportions, represented Lacheneur
as a fool, and his followers as inoffensive idiots.

Perhaps he led the King to suppose that the Marquis de Courtornieu
might have provoked the outbreak by undue severity. He had served under
Napoleon, and possibly had thought it necessary to make a display of his
zeal. There have been such cases.

So far as he himself was concerned, he deeply deplored the mistakes into
which he had been led by the ambitious marquis, upon whom he cast most
of the responsibility for the blood which had been shed.

The result of all this was, that when the Marquis de Courtornieu\x92s
report reached Paris, it was answered by a decree depriving him of the
office of _grand prevot_.

This unexpected blow crushed him.

To think that a man as shrewd, as subtle-minded, as quick-witted, and
adroit as himself--a man who had passed through so many troubled epochs,
who had served with the same obsequious countenance all the masters who
would accept his services--to think that such a man should have been
thus duped and betrayed!

\x93It must be that old imbecile, the Duc de Sairmeuse, who has manoeuvred
so skilfully, and with so much address,\x94 he said. \x93But who advised him?
I cannot imagine who it could have been.\x94

Who it was Mme. Blanche knew only too well.

She recognized Martial\x92s hand in all this, as Marie-Anne had done.

\x93Ah! I was not deceived in him,\x94 she thought; \x93he is the great
diplomatist I believed him to be. At his age to outwit my father, an old
politician of such experience and acknowledged astuteness! And he does
all this to please Marie-Anne,\x94 she continued, frantic with rage. \x93It
is the first step toward obtaining pardon for the friends of that vile
creature. She has unbounded influence over him, and so long as she lives
there is no hope for me. But, patience.\x94

She was patient, realizing that he who wishes to surely attain his
revenge must wait, dissimulate, _prepare_ an opportunity, but not force
it.

What her revenge should be she had not yet decided; but she already had
her eye upon a man whom she believed would be a willing instrument in
her hands, and capable of doing anything for money.

But how had such a man chanced to cross the path of Mme. Blanche? How
did it happen that she was cognizant of the existence of such a person?

It was the result of one of those simple combinations of circumstances
which go by the name of chance.

Burdened with remorse, despised and jeered at, and stoned whenever he
showed himself upon the street, and horror-stricken whenever he thought
of the terrible threats of Balstain, the Piedmontese innkeeper, Chupin
left Montaignac and came to beg an asylum at the Chateau de Sairmeuse.

In his ignorance, he thought that the _grand seigneur_ who had employed
him, and who had profited by his treason, owed him, over and above the
promised reward, aid and protection.

But the servants shunned him. They would not allow him a seat at the
kitchen-table, nor would the grooms allow him to sleep in the stables.
They threw him a bone, as they would have thrown it to a dog; and he
slept where he could.

He bore all this uncomplainingly, deeming himself fortunate in being
able to purchase comparative safety at such a price.

But when the duke returned from Paris with a policy of forgetfulness and
conciliation in his pocket, he would no longer tolerate the presence of
this man, who was the object of universal execration.

He ordered the dismissal of Chupin.

The latter resisted, swearing that he would not leave Sairmeuse unless
he was forcibly expelled, or unless he received the order from the lips
of the duke himself.

This obstinate resistance was reported to the duke. It made him
hesitate; but the necessity of the moment, and a word from Martial,
decided him.

He sent for Chupin and told him that he must not visit Sairmeuse again
under any pretext whatever, softening the harshness of expulsion,
however, by the offer of a small sum of money.

But Chupin sullenly refused the money, gathered his belongings together,
and departed, shaking his clinched fist at the chateau, and vowing
vengeance on the Sairmeuse family. Then he went to his old home, where
his wife and his two boys still lived.

He seldom left the house, and then only to satisfy his passion for
hunting. At such times, instead of hiding and surrounding himself with
every precaution, as he had done, before shooting a squirrel or a few
partridges, in former times, he went boldly to the Sairmeuse or the
Courtornieu forests, shot his game, and brought it home openly, almost
defiantly.

The rest of the time he spent in a state of semi-intoxication, for he
drank constantly and more and more immoderately. When he had taken more
than usual, his wife and his sons generally attempted to obtain money
from him, and if persuasions failed they resorted to blows.

For he had never given them the reward of his treason. What had he done
with the twenty thousand francs in gold which had been paid him? No one
knew. His sons believed he had buried it somewhere; but they tried in
vain to wrest his secret from him.

All the people in the neighborhood were aware of this state of affairs,
and regarded it as a just punishment for the traitor. Mme. Blanche
overheard one of the gardeners telling the story to two of his
assistants:

\x93Ah, the man is an old scoundrel!\x94 he said, his face crimson with
indignation. \x93He should be in the galleys, and not at large among
respectable people.\x94

\x93He is a man who would serve your purpose,\x94 the voice of hatred
whispered in Blanche\x92s ear.

\x93But how can I find an opportunity to confer with him?\x94 she wondered.
Mme. Blanche was too prudent to think of hazarding a visit to his house,
but she remembered that he hunted occasionally in the Courtornieu woods,
and that it might be possible for her to meet him there.

\x93It will only require a little perseverance and a few long walks,\x94 she
said to herself.

But it cost poor Aunt Medea, the inevitable chaperon, two long weeks of
almost continued walking.

\x93Another freak!\x94 groaned the poor relative, overcome with fatigue; \x93my
niece is certainly crazy!\x94

But one lovely afternoon in May Blanche discovered what she sought.

It was in a sequestered spot near the lake. Chupin was tramping sullenly
along with his gun and glancing suspiciously on every side! Not that
he feared the game-keeper or a verbal process, but wherever he went, he
fancied he saw Balstain walking in his shadow, with that terrible knife
in his hand.

Seeing Mme. Blanche he tried to hide himself in the forest, but she
prevented it by calling:

\x93Father Chupin!\x94

He hesitated for a moment, then he paused, dropped his gun, and waited.

Aunt Medea was pale with fright.

\x93Blessed Jesus!\x94 she murmured, pressing her niece\x92s arm; \x93why do you
call that terrible man?\x94

\x93I wish to speak with him.\x94

\x93What, Blanche, do you dare----\x94

\x93I must!\x94

\x93No, I cannot allow it. _I_ must not----\x94

\x93There, that is enough,\x94 said Blanche, with one of those imperious
glances that deprive a dependent of all strength and courage; \x93quite
enough.\x94

Then, in gentler tones:

\x93I must talk with this man,\x94 she added.

\x93You, Aunt Medea, will remain at a little distance. Keep a close watch
on every side, and if you see anyone approaching, call me, whoever it
may be.\x94

Aunt Medea, submissive as she was ever wont to be, obeyed; and Mme.
Blanche advanced toward the old poacher, who stood as motionless as the
trunks of the giant trees around him.

\x93Well, my good Father Chupin, what sort of sport have you had to-day?\x94
 she began, when she was a few steps from him.

\x93What do you want with me?\x94 growled Chupin; \x93for you do want something,
or you would not trouble yourself about such as I.\x94

It required all Blanche\x92s determination to repress a gesture of fright
and of disgust; but, in a resolute tone, she replied:

\x93Yes, it is true that I have a favor to ask you.\x94

\x93Ah, ha! I supposed so.\x94

\x93A mere trifle which will cost you no trouble and for which you shall be
well paid.\x94

She said this so carelessly that one would really have supposed the
service was unimportant; but cleverly as she played her part, Chupin was
not deceived.

\x93No one asks trifling services of a man like me,\x94 he said coarsely.

\x93Since I have served the good cause, at the peril of my life, people
seem to suppose that they have a right to come to me with their money in
their hands, when they desire any dirty work done. It is true that I was
well paid for that other job; but I would like to melt all the gold and
pour it down the throats of those who gave it to me.

\x93Ah! I know what it costs the humble to listen to the words of the
great! Go your way; and if you have any wickedness in your head, do it
yourself!\x94

He shouldered his gun and was moving away, when Mme. Blanche said,
coldly:

\x93It was because I knew your wrongs that I stopped you; I thought you
would be glad to serve me, because I hate the Sairmeuse.\x94

These words excited the interest of the old poacher, and he paused.

\x93I know very well that you hate the Sairmeuse now--but----\x94

\x93But what!\x94

\x93In less than a month you will be reconciled. And you will pay the
expenses of the war and of the reconciliation? That old wretch,
Chupin----\x94

\x93We shall never be reconciled.\x94

\x93Hum!\x94 he growled, after deliberating awhile. \x93And if I should aid you,
what compensation will you give me?\x94

\x93I will give you whatever you desire--money, land, a house----\x94

\x93Many thanks. I desire something quite different.\x94

\x93What? Name your conditions.\x94

Chupin reflected a moment, then he replied:

\x93This is what I desire. _I_ have enemies--I do not even feel safe in my
own house. My sons abuse me when I have been drinking; my wife is quite
capable of poisoning my wine; I tremble for my life and for my money.
I cannot endure this existence much longer. Promise me an asylum in the
Chateau de Courtornieu, and I am yours. In your house I shall be safe.
But let it be understood, I will not be ill-treated by the servants as I
was at Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93It shall be as you desire.\x94

\x93Swear it by your hope of heaven.\x94

\x93I swear.\x94

There was such an evident sincerity in her accent that Chupin was
reassured. He leaned toward her, and said, in a low voice:

\x93Now tell me your business.\x94

His small gray eyes glittered with a demoniac light; his thin lips were
tightly drawn over his sharp teeth; he was evidently expecting some
proposition to murder, and he was ready.

His attitude showed this so plainly that Blanche shuddered.

\x93Really, what I ask of you is almost nothing,\x94 she replied. \x93I only wish
you to watch the Marquis de Sairmeuse.\x94

\x93Your husband?\x94

\x93Yes; my husband. I wish to know what he does, where he goes, and what
persons he sees. I wish to know how each moment of his time is spent.\x94

\x93What! seriously, frankly, is this all that you desire of me?\x94 Chupin
asked.

\x93For the present, yes. My plans are not yet decided. It depends upon
circumstances what action I shall take.\x94

\x93You can rely upon me,\x94 he responded; \x93but I must have a little time.\x94

\x93Yes, I understand. To-day is Saturday; will you be ready to report on
Thursday?\x94

\x93In five days? Yes, probably.\x94

\x93In that case, meet me here on Thursday, at this same hour.\x94

A cry from Aunt Medea interrupted them.

\x93Someone is coming!\x94 Mme. Blanche exclaimed. \x93Quick! we must not be seen
together. Conceal yourself.\x94

With a bound the old poacher disappeared in the forest.

A servant had approached Aunt Medea, and was speaking to her with great
animation.

Blanche hastened toward them.

\x93Ah! Mademoiselle,\x94 exclaimed the servant, \x93we have been seeking you
everywhere for three hours. Your father, monsieur le marquis--_mon
Dieu_! what a misfortune! A physician has been summoned.\x94

\x93Is my father dead?\x94

\x93No, Mademoiselle, no; but--how can I tell you? When the marquis went
out this morning his actions were very strange, and--and--when he
returned----\x94

As he spoke the servant tapped his forehead with the end of his
forefinger.

\x93You understand me, Mademoiselle--when he returned, reason had fled!\x94

Without waiting for her terrified aunt, Blanche darted in the direction
of the chateau.

\x93How is the marquis?\x94 she inquired of the first servant whom she met.

\x93He is in his room on the bed; he is more quiet now.\x94

She had already reached his room. He was seated upon the bed, and two
servants were watching his every movement. His face was livid, and
a white foam had gathered upon his lips. Still, he recognized his
daughter.

\x93Here you are,\x94 said he. \x93I was waiting for you.\x94

She remained upon the threshold, quite overcome, although she was
neither tender-hearted nor impressionable.

\x93My father!\x94 she faltered. \x93Good heavens! what has happened?\x94

He uttered a discordant laugh.

\x93Ah, ha!\x94 he exclaimed, \x93I met him. Do you doubt me? I tell you that I
saw the wretch. I know him well; have I not seen his cursed face before
my eyes for more than a month--for it never leaves me. I saw him. It was
in the forest near the Sanguille rocks. You know the place; it is always
dark there, on account of the trees. I was returning slowly, thinking of
him, when suddenly he sprang up before me, extending his arms as if to
bar my passage.

\x93\x91Come,\x92 said he, \x91you must come and join me.\x92 He was armed with a gun;
he fired----\x94

The marquis paused, and Blanche summoned sufficient courage to approach
him. For more than a minute she fastened upon him that cold and
persistent look that is said to exercise such power over those who have
lost their reason; then, shaking him energetically by the arm, she said,
almost roughly:

\x93Control yourself, father. You are the victim of an hallucination. It is
impossible that you have seen the man of whom you speak.\x94

Who it was that M. de Courtornieu supposed he had seen, Blanche knew
only too well; but she dared not, could not, utter the name.

But the marquis had resumed his incoherent narrative.

\x93Was I dreaming?\x94 he continued. \x93No, it was certainly Lacheneur who
confronted me. I am sure of it, and the proof is, that he reminded me of
a circumstance which occurred in my youth, and which was known only to
him and me. It happened during the Reign of Terror. He was all-powerful
in Montaignac; and I was accused of being in correspondence with the
_emigres_. My property had been confiscated; and every moment I was
expecting to feel the hand of the executioner upon my shoulder, when
Lacheneur took me into his house. He concealed me; he furnished me with
a passport; he saved my money, and he saved my head--I sentenced him to
death. That is the reason why I have seen him again. I must rejoin him;
he told me so--I am a dying man!\x94

He fell back upon his pillows, pulled the sheet up over his face, and,
lying there, rigid and motionless, one might readily have supposed it
was a corpse, whose outlines could be vaguely discerned through the
bed-coverings.

Mute with horror, the servants exchanged frightened glances.

Such baseness and ingratitude amazed them. It seemed incomprehensible
to them, under such circumstances, that the marquis had not pardoned
Lacheneur.

Mme. Blanche alone retained her presence of mind. Turning to her
father\x92s valet, she said:

\x93It is not possible that anyone has attempted to injure my father?\x94

\x93I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle, a little more and he would have been
killed.\x94

\x93How do you know this?\x94

\x93In undressing the marquis I noticed that he had received a wound in
the head. I also examined his hat, and in it I found three holes, which
could only have been made by bullets.\x94

The worthy _valet de chambre_ was certainly more agitated than the
daughter.

\x93Then someone must have attempted to assassinate my father,\x94 she
murmured, \x93and this attack of delirium has been brought on by fright.
How can we find out who the would-be murderer was?\x94

The servant shook his head.

\x93I suspect that old poacher, who is always prowling around, is the
guilty man--Chupin.\x94

\x93No, it could not have been he.\x94

\x93Ah! I am almost sure of it. There is no one else in the neighborhood
capable of such an evil deed.\x94

Mme. Blanche could not give her reasons for declaring Chupin innocent.
Nothing in the world would have induced her to admit that she had met
him, talked with him for more than half an hour, and just parted from
him.

She was silent. In a few moments the physician arrived.

He removed the covering from M. de Courtornieu\x92s face--he was almost
compelled to use force to do it--examined the patient with evident
anxiety, then ordered mustard plasters, applications of ice to the head,
leeches, and a potion, for which a servant was to gallop to Montaignac
at once. All was bustle and confusion.

When the physician left the sick-room, Mme. Blanche followed him.

\x93Well, Doctor,\x94 she said, with a questioning look.

With considerable hesitation, he replied:

\x93People sometimes recover from such attacks.\x94

It really mattered little to Blanche whether her father recovered or
died, but she felt that an opportunity to recover her lost _prestige_
was now afforded her. If she desired to turn public opinion against
Martial, she must improvise for herself an entirely different
reputation. If she could erect a pedestal upon which she could pose as a
patient victim, her satisfaction would be intense. Such an occasion now
offered itself, and she seized it at once.

Never did a devoted daughter lavish more touching and delicate
attentions upon a sick father. It was impossible to induce her to leave
his bedside for a moment. It was only with great difficulty that they
could persuade her to sleep for a couple of hours, in an armchair in the
sick-room.

But while she was playing the role of Sister of Charity, which she had
imposed upon herself, her thoughts followed Chupin. What was he doing in
Montaignac? Was he watching Martial as he had promised? How slow the day
appointed for the meeting was in coming!

It came at last, however, and after intrusting her father to the care of
Aunt Medea, Blanche made her escape.

The old poacher was awaiting her at the appointed place.

\x93Speak!\x94 said Mme. Blanche.

\x93I would do so willingly, only I have nothing to tell you.\x94

\x93What! you have not watched the marquis?\x94

\x93Your husband? Excuse me, I have followed him; like his own shadow. But
what would you have me say to you; since the duke left for Paris, your
husband has charge of everything. Ah! you would not recognize him! He
is always busy now. He is up at cock-crow and he goes to bed with
the chickens. He writes letters all the morning. In the afternoon he
receives all who call upon him. The retired officers are hand and glove
in with him. He has reinstated five or six of them, and he has granted
pensions to two others. He seldom goes out, and never in the evening.\x94

He paused and for more than a minute Blanche was silent. She was
confused and agitated by the question that rose to her lips. What
humiliation! But she conquered her embarrassment, and turning away her
head to hide her crimson face, she said:

\x93But he certainly has a mistress!\x94

Chupin burst into a noisy laugh.

\x93Well, we have come to it at last,\x94 he said, with an audacious
familiarity that made Blanche shudder. \x93You mean that scoundrel
Lacheneur\x92s daughter, do you not? that stuck-up minx, Marie-Anne?\x94

Blanche felt that denial was useless.

\x93Yes,\x94 she answered; \x93it is Marie-Anne that I mean.\x94

\x93Ah, well! she has been neither seen nor heard from. She must have fled
with another of her lovers, Maurice d\x92Escorval.\x94

\x93You are mistaken.\x94

\x93Oh, not at all! Of all the Lacheneurs only Jean remains, and he lives
like the vagabond that he is, by poaching and stealing. Day and night he
rambles through the woods with his gun on his shoulder. He is frightful
to look upon, a perfect skeleton, and his eyes glitter like live coals.
If he ever meets me, my account will be settled then and there.\x94

Blanche turned pale. It was Jean Lacheneur who had fired at the marquis
then. She did not doubt it in the least.

\x93Very well!\x94 said she, \x93I, myself, am sure that Marie-Anne is in the
neighborhood, concealed in Montaignac, probably. I must know. Endeavor
to discover her retreat before Monday, when I will meet you here again.\x94

\x93I will try,\x94 Chupin answered.

He did indeed try; he exerted all his energy and cunning, but in vain.
He was fettered by the precautions which he took against Balstain and
against Jean Lacheneur. On the other hand, no one in the neighborhood
would have consented to give him the least information.

\x93Still no news!\x94 he said to Mme. Blanche at each interview.

But she would not yield. Jealousy will not yield even to evidence.

Blanche had declared that Marie-Anne had taken her husband from her,
that Martial and Marie-Anne loved each other, hence it must be so, all
proofs to the contrary notwithstanding.

But one morning she found her spy jubilant.

\x93Good news!\x94 he cried, as soon as he saw her; \x93we have caught the minx
at last.\x94



CHAPTER XLIII

It was the second day after Marie-Anne\x92s installation at the Borderie.

That event was the general topic of conversation; and Chanlouineau\x92s
will was the subject of countless comments.

\x93Here is Monsieur Lacheneur\x92s daughter with an income of more than
two thousand francs, without counting the house,\x94 said the old people,
gravely.

\x93An honest girl would have had no such luck as that!\x94 muttered the
unattractive maidens who had not been fortunate enough to secure
husbands.

This was the great news which Chupin brought to Mme. Blanche.

She listened to it, trembling with anger, her hands so convulsively
clinched that the nails penetrated the flesh.

\x93What audacity!\x94 she exclaimed. \x93What impudence!\x94

The old poacher seemed to be of the same opinion.

\x93If each of her lovers gives her as much she will be richer than a
queen. She will have enough to buy both Sairmeuse and Courtornieu, if
she chooses,\x94 he remarked, maliciously.

If he had desired to augment the rage of Mme. Blanche, he had good
reason to be satisfied.

\x93And this is the woman who has alienated Martial\x92s heart from me!\x94 she
exclaimed. \x93It is for this miserable wretch that he abandons me!\x94

The unworthiness of the unfortunate girl whom she regarded as her
rival, incensed her to such a degree that she entirely forgot Chupin\x92s
presence. She made no attempt to restrain herself or to hide the secret
of her sufferings.

\x93Are you sure that what you tell me is true?\x94 she asked.

\x93As sure as that you stand there.\x94

\x93Who told you all this?\x94

\x93No one--I have eyes. I went to the Borderie yesterday to see for
myself, and all the shutters were open. Marie-Anne was leaning out of a
window. She does not even wear mourning, the heartless hussy!\x94

Poor Marie-Anne, indeed, had no dress but the one which Mme. d\x92Escorval
had given her on the night of the insurrection, when she laid aside her
masculine habiliments.

Chupin wished to irritate Mme. Blanche still more by other malicious
remarks, but she checked him by a gesture.

\x93So you know the way to the Borderie?\x94 she inquired.

\x93Perfectly.\x94

\x93Where is it?\x94

\x93Opposite the mills of the Oiselle, near the river, about a league and a
half from here.\x94

\x93That is true. I remember now. Were you ever in the house?\x94

\x93More than a hundred times while Chanlouineau was living.\x94

\x93Explain the topography of the dwelling!\x94

Chupin\x92s eyes dilated to their widest extent.

\x93What do you wish?\x94 he asked, not understanding in the least what was
required of him.

\x93I mean, explain how the house is constructed.\x94

\x93Ah! now I understand. The house is built upon an open space a little
distance from the road. Before it is a small garden, and behind it an
orchard enclosed by a hedge. Back of the orchard, to the right, are the
vineyards; but on the left side is a small grove that shades a spring.\x94

He paused suddenly, and with a knowing wink, inquired:

\x93But what use do you expect to make of all this information?\x94

\x93What does that matter to you? How is the interior arranged?\x94

\x93There are three large square rooms on the ground floor, besides the
kitchen and a small dark room.\x94

\x93Now, what is on the floor above?\x94

\x93I have never been up there.\x94

\x93How are the rooms furnished which you have visited?\x94

\x93Like those in any peasant\x92s house.\x94

Certainly no one was aware of the existence of the luxurious apartment
which Chanlouineau had intended for Marie-Anne. He had never spoken of
it, and had even taken the greatest precautions to prevent anyone from
seeing him transport the furniture.

\x93How many doors are there?\x94 inquired Blanche.

\x93Three; one opening into the garden, another into the orchard, another
communicating with the stables. The staircase leading to the floor above
is in the middle room.\x94

\x93And is Marie-Anne alone at the Borderie?\x94

\x93Entirely alone at present; but I suppose it will not be long before her
brigand of a brother joins her.\x94

Mme. Blanche fell into a revery so deep and so prolonged that Chupin at
last became impatient.

He ventured to touch her upon the arm, and, in a wily voice, he said:
\x93Well, what shall we decide?\x94

Blanche shuddered like a wounded man on hearing the terrible click of
the surgeon\x92s instruments.

\x93My mind is not yet made up,\x94 she replied. \x93I must reflect--I will see.\x94

And remarking the old poacher\x92s discontented face, she said, vehemently:

\x93I will do nothing lightly. Do not lose sight of Martial. If he goes
to the Borderie, and he will go there, I must be informed of it. If he
writes, and he will write, try to procure one of his letters. I must see
you every other day. Do not rest! Strive to deserve the good place I am
reserving for you at Courtornieu. Go!\x94

He departed without a word, but also without attempting to conceal his
disappointment and chagrin.

\x93It serves you right for listening to a silly, affected woman,\x94 he
growled. \x93She fills the air with her ravings; she wishes to kill
everybody, to burn and destroy everything. She only asks for an
opportunity. The occasion presents itself, and her heart fails her. She
draws back--she is afraid!\x94

Chupin did Mme. Blanche great injustice. The movement of horror which
he had observed was the instinctive revolt of the flesh, and not a
faltering of her inflexible will.

Her reflections were not of a nature to appease her rancor.

Whatever Chupin and all Sairmeuse might say to the contrary, Blanche
regarded this story of Marie-Anne\x92s travels as a ridiculous fable.
In her opinion, Marie-Anne had simply emerged from the retreat where
Martial had deemed it prudent to conceal her.

But why this sudden reappearance? The vindictive woman was ready to
swear that it was out of mere bravado, and intended only as an insult to
her.

\x93And I will have my revenge,\x94 she thought. \x93I would tear my heart out if
it were capable of cowardly weakness under such provocation!\x94

The voice of conscience was unheard in this tumult of passion. Her
sufferings, and Jean Lacheneur\x92s attempt upon her father\x92s life seemed
to justify the most extreme measures.

She had plenty of time now to brood over her wrongs, and to concoct
schemes of vengeance. Her father no longer required her care. He had
passed from the frenzied ravings of insanity and delirium to the stupor
of idiocy.

The physician declared his patient cured.

Cured! The body was cured, perhaps, but reason had succumbed. All traces
of intelligence had disappeared from this once mobile face, so ready to
assume any expression which the most consummate hypocrisy required.

There was no longer a sparkle in the eye which had formerly gleamed with
cunning, and the lower lip hung with a terrible expression of stupidity.

And there was no hope of any improvement.

A single passion, the table, took the place of all the passions which
had formerly swayed the life of this ambitious man.

The marquis, who had always been temperate in his habits, now ate and
drank with the most disgusting voracity, and he was becoming immensely
corpulent. A soulless body, he wandered about the chateau and its
surroundings without projects, without aim. Self-consciousness, all
thought of dignity, knowledge of good and evil, memory--he had lost
all these. Even the instinct of self-preservation, the last which dies
within us, had departed, and he had to be watched like a child.

Often, as the marquis roamed about the large gardens, his daughter
regarded him from her window with a strange terror in her heart.

But this warning of Providence only increased her desire for revenge.

\x93Who would not prefer death to such a misfortune?\x94 she murmured. \x93Ah!
Jean Lacheneur\x92s revenge is far more terrible than it would have been
had his bullet pierced my father\x92s heart. It is a revenge like this that
I desire. It is due me; I will have it!\x94

She saw Chupin every two or three days; sometimes going to the place of
meeting alone, sometimes accompanied by Aunt Medea.

The old poacher came punctually, although he was beginning to tire of
his task.

\x93I am risking a great deal,\x94 he growled. \x93I supposed that Jean Lacheneur
would go and live at the Borderie with his sister. Then, I should be
safe. But no; the brigand continues to prowl around with his gun under
his arm, and to sleep in the woods at night. What game is he hunting?
Father Chupin, of course. On the other hand, I know that my rascally
innkeeper over there has abandoned his inn and mysteriously disappeared.
Where is he? Hidden behind one of these trees, perhaps, deciding in
which portion of my body he shall plunge his knife.\x94

What irritated the old poacher most of all was, that after two months of
surveillance, he had arrived at the conclusion that, whatever might have
been the relations existing between Martial and Marie-Anne in the past,
all was now over between them.

But Blanche would not admit this.

\x93Say that they are more cunning than you, Father Chupin.\x94

\x93Cunning--and how? Since I have been watching the marquis, he has not
once passed outside the fortifications. On the other hand, the postman
at Sairmeuse, who has been adroitly questioned by my wife, declares that
he has not taken a single letter to the Borderie.\x94

Had it not been for the hope of a safe and pleasant retreat at
Courtornieu, Chupin would have abandoned his task; and, in spite of
the tempting rewards that were promised him, he had relaxed his
surveillance.

If he still came to the rendezvous, it was only because he had fallen
into the habit of claiming some money for his expenses each time.

And when Mme. Blanche demanded an account of everything that Martial had
done, he told her anything that came into his head.

Mme. Blanche soon discovered this. One day, early in September, she
interrupted him as he began the same old story, and, looking him
steadfastly in the eye, she said:

\x93Either you are betraying me, or you are a fool. Yesterday Martial and
Marie-Anne spent a quarter of an hour together at the Croix d\x92Arcy.\x94



CHAPTER XLIV

The old physician at Vigano, who had come to Marie-Anne\x92s aid, was an
honorable man. His intellect was of a superior order, and his heart was
equal to his intelligence. He knew life; he had loved and suffered, and
he possessed two sublime virtues--forbearance and charity.

It was easy for such a man to read Marie-Anne\x92s character; and while he
was at the Borderie he endeavored in every possible way to reassure her,
and to restore the self-respect of the unfortunate girl who had confided
in him.

Had he succeeded? He certainly hoped so.

But when he departed and Marie-Anne was again left in solitude, she
could not overcome the feeling of despondency that stole over her.

Many, in her situation, would have regained their serenity of mind,
and even rejoiced. Had she not succeeded in concealing her fault? Who
suspected it, except, perhaps, the abbe.

Hence, Marie-Anne had nothing to fear, and everything to hope.

But this conviction did not appease her sorrow. Hers was one of those
pure and proud natures that are more sensitive to the whisperings of
conscience than to the clamors of the world.

She had been accused of having three lovers--Chanlouineau, Martial, and
Maurice. The calumny had not moved her. What tortured her was what these
people did not know--the truth.

Nor was this all. The sublime instinct of maternity had been awakened
within her. When she saw the physician depart, bearing her child, she
felt as if soul and body were being rent asunder. When could she hope
to see again this little son who was doubly dear to her by reason of the
very sorrow and anguish he had cost her? The tears gushed to her eyes
when she thought that his first smile would not be for her.

Ah! had it not been for her promise to Maurice, she would unhesitatingly
have braved public opinion, and kept her precious child.

Her brave and honest nature could have endured any humiliation far
better than the continual lie she was forced to live.

But she had promised; Maurice was her husband, and reason told her that
for his sake she must preserve not her honor, alas! but the semblance of
honor.

And when she thought of her brother, her blood froze in her veins.

Having learned that Jean was roving about the country, she sent for him;
but it was not without much persuasion that he consented to come to the
Borderie.

It was easy to explain Chupin\x92s terror when one saw Jean Lacheneur.
His clothing was literally in tatters, his face wore an expression of
ferocious despair, and a fierce unextinguishable hatred burned in his
eyes.

When he entered the cottage, Marie-Anne recoiled in horror. She did not
recognize him until he spoke.

\x93It is I, sister,\x94 he said, gloomily.

\x93You--my poor Jean! you!\x94

He surveyed himself from head to foot, and said, with a sneering laugh:

\x93Really, I should not like to meet myself at dusk in the forest.\x94

Marie-Anne shuddered. She fancied that a threat lurked beneath these
ironical words, beneath this mockery of himself.

\x93What a life yours must be, my poor brother! Why did you not come
sooner? Now, I have you here, I shall not let you go. You will not
desert me. I need protection and love so much. You will remain with me?\x94

\x93It is impossible, Marie-Anne.\x94

\x93And why?\x94

A fleeting crimson suffused Jean Lacheneur\x92s cheek; he hesitated for a
moment, then:

\x93Because I have a right to dispose of my own life, but not of yours,\x94 he
replied. \x93We can no longer be anything to each other. I deny you to-day,
that you may be able to deny me to-morrow. Yes, I renounce you, who are
my all--the only person on earth whom I love. Your most cruel enemies
have not calumniated you more foully than I----\x94

He paused an instant, then he added:

\x93I have said openly, before numerous witnesses, that I would never set
foot in a house that had been given you by Chanlouineau.\x94

\x93Jean! you, my brother! said that?\x94

\x93I said it. It must be supposed that there is a deadly feud between us.
This must be, in order that neither you nor Maurice d\x92Escorval can be
accused of complicity in any deed of mine.\x94

Marie-Anne stood as if petrified.

\x93He is mad!\x94 she murmured.

\x93Do I really have that appearance?\x94

She shook off the stupor that paralyzed her, and seizing her brother\x92s
hands:

\x93What do you intend to do?\x94 she exclaimed. \x93What do you intend to do?
Tell me; I will know.\x94

\x93Nothing! let me alone.\x94

\x93Jean!\x94

\x93Let me alone,\x94 he said, roughly, disengaging himself.

A horrible presentiment crossed Marie-Anne\x92s mind.

She stepped back, and solemnly, entreatingly, she said:

\x93Take care, take care, my brother. It is not well to tamper with these
matters. Leave to God\x92s justice the task of punishing those who have
wronged us.\x94

But nothing could move Jean Lacheneur, or divert him from his purpose.
He uttered a hoarse, discordant laugh, then striking his gun heavily
with his hand, he exclaimed:

\x93Here is justice!\x94

Appalled and distressed beyond measure, Marie-Anne sank into a chair.
She discerned in her brother\x92s mind the same fixed, fatal idea which had
lured her father on to destruction--the idea for which he had sacrificed
all--family, friends, fortune, the present and the future--even his
daughter\x92s honor--the idea which had caused so much blood to flow,
which had cost the life of so many innocent men, and which had finally
conducted him to the scaffold.

\x93Jean,\x94 she murmured, \x93remember our father.\x94

The young man\x92s face became livid; his hands clinched involuntarily, but
he controlled his anger.

Advancing toward his sister, in a cold, quiet tone that added a
frightful violence to his threats, he said:

\x93It is because I remember my father that justice shall be done. Ah!
these miserable nobles would not display such audacity if all sons had
my resolution. A scoundrel would hesitate before attacking a good man if
he was obliged to say to himself: \x91I cannot strike this honest man, for
though he die, his children will surely call me to account. Their fury
will fall on me and mine; they will pursue us sleeping and waking,
pursue us without ceasing, everywhere, and pitilessly. Their hatred
always on the alert, will accompany us and surround us. It will be
an implacable, merciless warfare. I shall never venture forth without
fearing a bullet; I shall never lift food to my lips without dread of
poison. And until we have succumbed, they will prowl about our house,
trying to slip in through tiniest opening, death, dishonor, ruin,
infamy, and misery!\x92\x94

He paused with a nervous laugh, and then, still more slowly, he added:

\x93That is what the Sairmeuse and Courtornieu have to expect from me.\x94

It was impossible to mistake the meaning of Jean Lacheneur\x92s words. His
threats were not the wild ravings of anger. His quiet manner, his icy
tones, his automatic gestures betrayed one of those cold rages which
endure so long as the man lives.

He took good care to make himself understood, for between his teeth he
added:

\x93Undoubtedly, these people are very high, and I am very low; but when
a tiny worm fastens itself to the roots of a giant oak, that tree is
doomed.\x94

Marie-Anne knew all too well the uselessness of prayers and entreaties.

And yet she could not, she must not allow her brother to depart in this
mood.

She fell upon her knees, and with clasped hands and supplicating voice:

\x93Jean,\x94 said she, \x93I implore you to renounce these projects. In the name
of our mother, return to your better self. These are crimes which you
are meditating!\x94

With a glance of scorn and a shrug of the shoulders, he replied:

\x93Have done with this. I was wrong to confide my hopes to you. Do not
make me regret that I came here.\x94

Then the sister tried another plan. She rose, forced her lips to smile,
and as if nothing unpleasant had passed between them, she begged Jean to
remain with her that evening, at least, and share her frugal supper.

\x93Remain,\x94 she entreated; \x93that is not much to do--and it will make me
so happy. And since it will be the last time we shall see each other
for years, grant me a few hours. It is so long since we have met. I
have suffered so much. I have so many things to tell you! Jean, my dear
brother, can it be that you love me no longer?\x94

One must have been bronze to remain insensible to such prayers. Jean
Lacheneur\x92s heart swelled almost to bursting; his stern features
relaxed, and a tear trembled in his eye.

Marie-Anne saw that tear. She thought she had conquered, and clapping
her hands in delight, she exclaimed:

\x93Ah! you will remain! you will remain!\x94

No. Jean had already mastered his momentary weakness, though not without
a terrible effort; and in a harsh voice:

\x93Impossible! impossible!\x94 he repeated.

Then, as his sister clung to him imploringly, he took her in his arms
and pressed her to his heart.

\x93Poor sister--poor Marie-Anne--you will never know what it costs me
to refuse you, to separate myself from you. But this must be. In
even coming here I have been guilty of an imprudent act. You do not
understand to what perils you will be exposed if people suspect any bond
between us. I trust you and Maurice may lead a calm and happy life. It
would be a crime for me to mix you up with my wild schemes. Think of me
sometimes, but do not try to see me, or even to learn what has become of
me. A man like me struggles, triumphs, or perishes alone.\x94

He kissed Marie-Anne passionately, then lifted her, placed her in a
chair, and freed himself from her detaining hands.

\x93Adieu!\x94 he cried; \x93when you see me again, our father will be avenged!\x94

She sprang up to rush after him and to call him back. Too late!

He had fled.

\x93It is over,\x94 murmured the wretched girl; \x93my brother is lost. Nothing
will restrain him now.\x94

A vague, inexplicable, but horrible fear, contracted her heart. She felt
that she was being slowly but surely drawn into a whirlpool of passion,
rancor, vengeance, and crime, and a voice whispered that she would be
crushed.

But other thoughts soon replaced these gloomy presentiments.

One evening, while she was preparing her little table, she heard a
rustling sound at the door. She turned and looked; someone had slipped a
letter under the door.

Courageously, and without an instant\x92s hesitation, she sprang to the
door and opened it. No one was there!

The night was dark, and she could distinguish nothing in the gloom
without. She listened; not a sound broke the stillness.

Agitated and trembling she picked up the letter, approached the light,
and looked at the address.

\x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse!\x94 she exclaimed, in amazement.

She recognized Martial\x92s handwriting. So he had written to her! He had
dared to write to her!

Her first impulse was to burn the letter; she held it to the flame, then
the thought of her friends concealed at Father Poignot\x92s farm made her
withdraw it. \x93For their sake,\x94 she thought, \x93I must read it.\x94 She broke
the seal with the arms of the De Sairmeuse family inscribed upon it, and
read:


\x93My dear Marie-Anne--Perhaps you have suspected who it is that has given
an entirely new, and certainly surprising, direction to events.

\x93Perhaps you have also understood the motives that guided him. In that
case I am amply repaid for my efforts, for you cannot refuse me your
friendship and your esteem.

\x93But my work of reparation is not yet accomplished. I have prepared
everything for a revision of the judgment that condemned Baron
d\x92Escorval to death, or for procuring a pardon.

\x93You must know where the baron is concealed. Acquaint him with my plans
and ascertain whether he prefers a revision of judgment, or a simple
pardon.

\x93If he desires a new trial, I will give him a letter of license from the
King.

\x93I await your reply before acting.

\x93Martial de Sairmeuse.\x94


Marie-Anne\x92s head whirled.

This was the second time that Martial had astonished her by the grandeur
of his passion.

How noble the two men who had loved her and whom she had rejected, had
proved themselves to be.

One, Chanlouineau, after dying for her sake, protected her still.

Martial de Sairmeuse had sacrificed the convictions of his life and
the prejudice of his race for her sake; and, with a noble recklessness,
hazarded for her the political fortunes of his house.

And yet the man whom she had chosen, the father of her child, Maurice
d\x92Escorval, had not given a sign of life since he quitted her, five
months before.

But suddenly, and without reason, Marie-Anne passed from the most
profound admiration to the deepest distrust.

\x93What if Martial\x92s offer is only a trap?\x94 This was the suspicion that
darted through her mind.

\x93Ah!\x94 she thought, \x93the Marquis de Sairmeuse would be a hero if he were
sincere!\x94

And she did not wish him to be a hero.

The result of these suspicions was that she hesitated five days before
repairing to the rendezvous where Father Poignot usually awaited her.

When she did go, she found, not the worthy farmer, but Abbe Midon, who
had been greatly alarmed by her long absence.

It was night, but Marie-Anne, fortunately, knew Martial\x92s letter by
heart.

The abbe made her repeat it twice, the second time very slowly, and when
she had concluded:

\x93This young man,\x94 said the priest, \x93has the voice and the prejudices of
his rank and of his education; but his heart is noble and generous.\x94

And when Marie-Anne disclosed her suspicions:

\x93You are wrong, my child,\x94 said he; \x93the Marquis is certainly sincere.
It would be wrong not to take advantage of his generosity. Such, at
least, is my opinion. Intrust this letter to me. I will consult the
baron, and to-morrow I will tell you our decision.\x94

The abbe was awaiting her with feverish impatience on the same spot,
when she rejoined him twenty-four hours later.

\x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval agrees with me that we must trust ourselves to the
Marquis de Sairmeuse. Only the baron, being innocent, cannot, will not,
accept a pardon. He demands a revision of the iniquitous judgment which
condemned him.\x94

Although she must have foreseen this determination, Marie-Anne seemed
stupefied.

\x93What!\x94 said she. \x93Monsieur d\x92Escorval will give himself up to his
enemies? Does not the Marquis de Sairmeuse promise him a letter of
license, a safe-conduct from the King?\x94

\x93Yes.\x94

She could find no objection, so in a submissive tone, she said:

\x93In this case, Monsieur, I must ask you for a rough draft of the letter
I am to write to the marquis.\x94

The priest did not reply for a moment. It was evident that he felt some
misgivings. At last, summoning all his courage, he said:

\x93It would be better not to write.\x94

\x93But----\x94

\x93It is not that I distrust the marquis, not by any means, but a
letter is dangerous; it does not always reach the person to whom it is
addressed. You must see Monsieur de Sairmeuse.\x94

Marie-Anne recoiled in horror.

\x93Never! never!\x94 she exclaimed.

The abbe did not seem surprised.

\x93I understand your repugnance, my child,\x94 he said, gently; \x93your
reputation has suffered greatly through the attentions of the marquis.\x94

\x93Oh! sir, I entreat you.\x94

\x93But one should not hesitate, my child, when duty speaks. You owe this
sacrifice to an innocent man who has been ruined through your father.\x94

He explained to her all that she must say, and did not leave her until
she had promised to see the marquis in person. But the cause of her
repugnance was not what the abbe supposed. Her reputation! Alas! she
knew that was lost forever. No, it was not that.

A fortnight before she would not have been disquieted by the prospect
of this interview. Then, though she no longer hated Martial, he was
perfectly indifferent to her, while now----

Perhaps in choosing the Croix d\x92Arcy for the place of meeting, she hoped
that this spot, haunted by so many cruel memories, would restore her
former aversion.

On pursuing the path leading to the place of rendezvous, she said to
herself that Martial would undoubtedly wound her by the tone of careless
gallantry which was habitual to him.

But in this she was mistaken. Martial was greatly agitated, but he did
not utter a word that was not connected with the baron.

It was only when the conference was ended, and he had consented to all
the conditions, that he said, sadly:

\x93We are friends, are we not?\x94

In an almost inaudible voice she answered:

\x93Yes.\x94

And that was all. He remounted his horse which had been held by a
servant, and departed in the direction of Montaignac.

Breathless, with cheeks on fire, Marie-Anne watched him as he
disappeared; and then her inmost heart was revealed as by a lightning
flash.

\x93_Mon Dieu_! wretch that I _am_!\x94 she exclaimed. \x93Do I not love? is it
possible that I could ever love any other than Maurice, my husband, the
father of my child?\x94

Her voice was still trembling with emotion when she recounted the
details of the interview to the abbe. But he did not perceive it. He was
thinking only of the baron.

\x93I was sure that Martial would agree to everything; I was so certain
of it that I have made all the arrangements for the baron to leave the
farm. He will await, at your house, a safe-conduct from His Majesty.

\x93The close air and the heat of the loft are retarding the baron\x92s
recovery,\x94 the abbe pursued, \x93so be prepared for his coming to-morrow
evening. One of the Poignot boys will bring over all our baggage. About
eleven o\x92clock we will put Monsieur d\x92Escorval in a carriage; and we
will all sup together at the Borderie.\x94

\x93Heaven comes to my aid!\x94 thought Marie-Anne as she walked homeward.

She thought that she would no longer be alone, that Mme. d\x92Escorval
would be with her to talk to her of Maurice, and that all the friends
who would surround her would aid her in driving away the thoughts of
Martial, which haunted her.

So the next day she was more cheerful than she had been for months, and
once, while putting her little house in order, she was surprised to find
herself singing at her work.

Eight o\x92clock was sounding when she heard a peculiar whistle.

It was the signal of the younger Poignot, who came bringing an arm-chair
for the sick man, the abbe\x92s box of medicine, and a bag of books.

These articles Marie-Anne deposited in the room which Chanlouineau had
adorned for her, and which she intended for the baron. After arranging
them to her satisfaction she went out to meet young Poignot, who had
told her that he would soon return with other articles.

The night was very dark, and Marie-Anne, as she hastened on, did not
notice two motionless figures in the shadow of a clump of lilacs in her
little garden.



CHAPTER XLV

Detected by Mme. Blanche in a palpable falsehood, Chupin was quite
crestfallen for a moment.

He saw the pleasing vision of a retreat at Courtornieu vanish; he saw
himself suddenly deprived of frequent gifts which permitted him to spare
his hoarded treasure, and even to increase it.

But he soon regained his assurance, and with an affectation of frankness
he said:

\x93I may be stupid, but I could not deceive an infant. Someone must have
told you falsely.\x94

Mme. Blanche shrugged her shoulders.

\x93I obtained my information from two persons who were ignorant of the
interest it would possess for me.\x94

\x93As truly as the sun is in the heavens I swear----\x94

\x93Do not swear; simply confess that you have been wanting in zeal.\x94

The young lady\x92s manner betrayed such positive certainty that Chupin
ceased his denials and changed his tactics.

With the most abject humility, he admitted that the evening before he
had relaxed his surveillance; he had been very busy; one of his boys had
injured his foot; then he had encountered some friends who persuaded
him to enter a drinking-saloon, where he had taken more than usual, so
that----

He told this story in a whining tone, and every moment he interrupted
himself to affirm his repentance and to cover himself with reproaches.

\x93Old drunkard!\x94 he said, \x93this will teach you----\x94

But these protestations, far from reassuring Mme. Blanche, made her
still more suspicious,

\x93All this is very well, Father Chupin,\x94 she said, dryly, \x93but what are
you going to do now to repair your negligence?\x94

\x93What do I intend to do?\x94 he exclaimed, feigning the most violent
anger. \x93Oh! you will see. I will prove that no one can deceive me with
impunity. Near the Borderie is a small grove. I shall station myself
there; and may the devil seize me if a cat enters that house unbeknown
to me.\x94

Mme. Blanche drew her purse from her pocket, and taking out three louis,
she gave them to Chupin, saying:

\x93Take these, and be more careful in future. Another blunder like this,
and I shall be compelled to ask the aid of some other person.\x94

The old poacher went away, whistling quite reassured; but he was wrong.
The lady\x92s generosity was only intended to allay his suspicions.

And why should she not suppose he had betrayed her--this miserable
wretch, who made it his business to betray others? What reason had she
for placing any confidence in his reports? She paid him! Others, by
paying him more, would certainly have the preference!

But how could she ascertain what she wished to know? Ah! she saw but one
way--a very disagreeable, but a sure way. She, herself, would play the
spy.

This idea took such possession of her mind that, after dinner was
concluded, and twilight had enveloped the earth in a mantle of gray, she
summoned Aunt Medea.

\x93Get your cloak, quickly, aunt,\x94 she commanded. \x93I am going for a walk,
and you must accompany me.\x94

Aunt Medea extended her hand to the bell-rope, but her niece stopped
her.

\x93You will dispense with the services of your maid,\x94 said she. \x93I do not
wish anyone in the chateau to know that we have gone out.\x94

\x93Are we going alone?\x94

\x93Alone.\x94

\x93Alone, and on foot, at night----\x94

\x93I am in a hurry, aunt,\x94 interrupted Blanche, \x93and I am waiting for
you.\x94

In the twinkling of an eye Aunt Medea was ready.

The marquis had just been put to bed, the servants were at dinner, and
Blanche and Aunt Medea reached the little gate leading from the garden
into the open fields without being observed.

\x93Good heavens! Where are we going?\x94 groaned Aunt Medea.

\x93What is that to you? Come!\x94

Mme. Blanche was going to the Borderie.

She could have followed the banks of the Oiselle, but she preferred
to cut across the fields, thinking she would be less likely to meet
someone.

The night was still, but very dark, and the progress of the two women
was often retarded by hedges and ditches. Twice Blanche lost her way.
Again and again, Aunt Medea stumbled over the rough ground, and bruised
herself against the stones; she groaned, she almost wept, but her
terrible niece was pitiless.

\x93Come!\x94 she said, \x93or I will leave you to find your way as best you
can.\x94

And the poor dependent struggled on.

At last, after a tramp of more than an hour, Blanche ventured to
breathe. She recognized Chanlouineau\x92s house, and she paused in the
little grove of which Chupin had spoken.

\x93Are we at our journey\x92s end?\x94 inquired Aunt Medea, timidly.

\x93Yes, but be quiet. Remain where you are, I wish to look about a
little.\x94

\x93What! you are leaving me alone? Blanche, I entreat you! What are you
going to do? _Mon Dieu_! you frighten me. I am afraid, Blanche!\x94

But her niece had gone. She was exploring the grove, seeking Chupin. She
did not find him.

\x93I knew the wretch was deceiving me,\x94 she muttered through her set
teeth. \x93Who knows but Martial and Marie-Anne are there in that house
now, mocking me, and laughing at my credulity?\x94

She rejoined Aunt Medea, whom she found half dead with fright, and both
advanced to the edge of the woods, which commanded a view of the front
of the house.

A flickering, crimson light gleamed through two windows in the second
story. Evidently there was a fire in the room.

\x93That is right,\x94 murmured Blanche, bitterly; \x93Martial is such a chilly
person!\x94

She was about to approach the house, when a peculiar whistle rooted her
to the spot.

She looked about her, and, in spite of the darkness, she discerned in
the footpath leading to the Borderie, a man laden with articles which
she could not distinguish.

Almost immediately a woman, certainly Marie-Anne, left the house and
advanced to meet him.

They exchanged a few words and then walked together to the house. Soon
after the man emerged without his burden and went away.

\x93What does this mean?\x94 murmured Mme. Blanche.

She waited patiently for more than half an hour, and as nothing stirred:

\x93Let us go nearer,\x94 she said to Aunt Medea, \x93I wish to look through the
windows.\x94

They were approaching the house when, just as they reached the little
garden, the door of the cottage opened so suddenly that they had
scarcely time to conceal themselves in a clump of lilac-bushes.

Marie-Anne came out, imprudently leaving the key in the door, passed
down the narrow path, gained the road, and disappeared.

Blanche pressed Aunt Medea\x92s arm with a violence that made her cry out.

\x93Wait for me here,\x94 she said, in a strained, unnatural voice, \x93and
whatever happens, whatever you hear, if you wish to finish your days at
Courtornieu, not a word! Do not stir from this spot; I will return.\x94

And she entered the cottage.

Marie-Anne, on going out, had left a candle burning on the table in the
front room.

Blanche seized it and boldly began an exploration of the dwelling.

She had gone over the arrangement of the Borderie so often in her own
mind that the rooms seemed familiar to her, she seemed to recognize
them.

In spite of Chupin\x92s description the poverty of this humble abode
astonished her. There was no floor save the ground; the walls were
poorly whitewashed; all kinds of grain and bunches of herbs hung
suspended from the ceiling; a few heavy tables, wooden benches, and
clumsy chairs constituted the entire furniture.

Marie-Anne evidently occupied the back room. It was the only apartment
that contained a bed. This was one of those immense country affairs,
very high and broad, with tall fluted posts, draped with green serge
curtains, sliding back and forth on iron rings.

At the head of the bed, fastened to the wall, hung a receptacle for
holy-water. Blanche dipped her finger in the bowl; it was full to the
brim.

Beside the window was a wooden shelf supported by a hook, and on the
shelf stood a basin and bowl of the commonest earthenware.

\x93It must be confessed that my husband does not provide a very sumptuous
abode for his idol,\x94 said Mme. Blanche, with a sneer.

She was almost on the point of asking herself if jealousy had not led
her astray.

She remembered Martial\x92s fastidious tastes, and she did not know how
to reconcile them with these meagre surroundings. Then, there was the
holy-water!

But her suspicions became stronger when she entered the kitchen.
Some savory compound was bubbling in a pot over the fire, and several
saucepans, in which fragrant stews were simmering, stood among the warm
ashes.

\x93All this cannot be for her,\x94 murmured Blanche.

Then she remembered the two windows in the story above which she had
seen illuminated by the trembling glow of the fire-light.

\x93I must examine the rooms above,\x94 she thought.

The staircase led up from the middle of the room; she knew this. She
quickly ascended the stairs, pushed open a door, and could not repress a
cry of surprise and rage.

She found herself in the sumptuously appointed room which Chanlouineau
had made the sanctuary of his great love, and upon which he had
lavished, with the fanaticism of passion, all that was costly and
luxurious.

\x93Then it is true!\x94 exclaimed Blanche. \x93And I thought just now that all
was too meagre and too poor! Miserable dupe that I am! Below, all is
arranged for the eyes of comers and goers. Here, everything is intended
exclusively for themselves. Now, I recognize Martial\x92s astonishing
talent for dissimulation. He loves this vile creature so much that he
is anxious in regard to her reputation; he keeps his visits to her a
secret, and this is the hidden paradise of their love. Here they laugh
at me, the poor forsaken wife, whose marriage was but a mockery.\x94

She had desired to know the truth; certainty was less terrible to endure
than this constant suspicion, And, as if she found a little enjoyment
in proving the extent of Martial\x92s love for a hated rival, she took an
inventory, as it were, of the magnificent appointments of the chamber,
feeling the heavy brocaded silk stuff that formed the curtains, and
testing the thickness of the rich carpet with her foot.

Everything indicated that Marie-Anne was expecting someone; the bright
fire, the large arm-chair placed before the hearth, the embroidered
slippers lying beside the chair.

And whom could she expect save Martial? The person who had been there a
few moments before probably came to announce the arrival of her lover,
and she had gone out to meet him.

For a trifling circumstance would seem to indicate that this messenger
had not been expected.

Upon the mantel stood a bowl of still smoking bouillon.

It was evident that Marie-Anne was on the point of drinking this when
she heard the signal.

Mme. Blanche was wondering how she could profit by her discovery, when
her eyes fell upon a large oaken box standing open upon a table near the
glass door leading into the dressing-room, and filled with tiny boxes
and vials.

Mechanically she approached it, and among the bottles she saw two of
blue glass, upon which the word \x93poison\x94 was inscribed.

\x93Poison!\x94 Blanche could not turn her eyes from this word, which seemed
to exert a kind of fascination over her.

A diabolical inspiration associated the contents of these vials with the
bowl standing upon the mantel.

\x93And why not?\x94 she murmured. \x93I could escape afterward.\x94

A terrible thought made her pause. Martial would return with Marie-Anne;
who could say that it would not be he who would drink the contents of
the bowl.

\x93God shall decide!\x94 she murmured. \x93It is better one\x92s husband should be
dead than belong to another!\x94

And with a firm hand, she took up one of the vials.

Since her entrance into the cottage Blanche had scarcely been conscious
of her acts. Hatred and despair had clouded her brain like fumes of
alcohol.

But when her hand came in contact with the glass containing the deadly
drug, the terrible shock dissipated her bewilderment; she regained
the full possession of her faculties; the power of calm deliberation
returned.

This is proved by the fact that her first thought was this:

\x93I am ignorant even of the name of the poison which I hold. What dose
must I administer, much or little?\x94

She opened the vial, not without considerable difficulty, and poured
a few grains of its contents into the palm of her hand. It was a fine,
white powder, glistening like pulverized glass, and looking not unlike
sugar.

\x93Can it really be sugar?\x94 she thought.

Resolved to ascertain, she moistened the tip of her finger, and
collected upon it a few atoms of the powder which she placed upon her
tongue.

The taste was like that of an extremely acid apple.

Without hesitation, without remorse, without even turning pale, she
poured into the bowl the entire contents of the vial.

Her self-possession was so perfect, she even recollected that the powder
might be slow in dissolving, and she stirred it gently for a moment or
more.

Having done this--she seemed to think of everything--she tasted
the bouillon. She noticed a slightly bitter taste, but it was not
sufficiently perceptible to awaken distrust.

Now Mme. Blanche breathed freely. If she could succeed in making her
escape she was avenged.

She was going toward the door when a sound on the stairs startled her.

Two persons were ascending the staircase.

Where should she go? where could she conceal herself?

She was now so sure she would be detected that she almost decided to
throw the bowl into the fire, and then boldly face the intruders.

But no--a chance remained--she darted into the dressing-room. She dared
not close the door; the least click of the latch would have betrayed
her.

Marie-Anne entered the chamber, followed by a peasant, bearing a large
bundle.

\x93Ah! here is my candle!\x94 she exclaimed, as she crossed the threshold.
\x93Joy must be making me lose my wits! I could have sworn that I left it
on the table downstairs.\x94 Blanche shuddered. She had not thought of this
circumstance.

\x93Where shall I put this clothing?\x94 asked the young peasant.

\x93Lay it down here. I will arrange the articles by and by,\x94 replied Marie
Anne.

The boy dropped his heavy burden with a sigh of relief.

\x93This is the last,\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Now, our gentleman can come.\x94

\x93At what hour will he start?\x94 inquired Marie-Anne.

\x93At eleven o\x92clock. It will be nearly midnight when he gets here.\x94

Marie-Anne glanced at the magnificent clock on the mantel.

\x93I have still three hours before me,\x94 said she; \x93more time than I shall
need. Supper is ready; I am going to set the table here, by the fire.
Tell him to bring a good appetite.\x94

\x93I will tell him, and many thanks, Mademoiselle, for having come to meet
me and aid me with my second load. It was not so very heavy, but it was
clumsy to handle.\x94

\x93Will you not accept a glass of wine?\x94

\x93No, thank you. I must hasten back. _Au revoir_, Mademoiselle
Lacheneur.\x94

\x93_Au revoir_, Poignot.\x94

This name Poignot had no significance in the ears of Blanche.

Ah! had she heard Monsieur d\x92Escorval\x92s or the abbe\x92s name mentioned,
she might have felt some doubt of Marie-Anne\x92s guilt; her resolution
might have wavered, and--who knows?

But no. Young Poignot, in referring to the baron had said: \x93our
gentleman,\x94 Marie-Anne said: \x93he.\x94

Is not \x93he\x94 always the person who is uppermost in our minds, the husband
whom one hates or the lover whom one adores?

\x93Our gentleman!\x94 \x93he!\x94 Blanche translated Martial.

Yes, it was the Marquis de Sairmeuse who was to arrive at midnight. She
was sure of it. It was he who had been preceded by a messenger bearing
clothing. This could only mean that he was about to establish himself
at the Borderie. Perhaps he would cast aside all secrecy and live there
openly, regardless of his rank, of his dignity, and of his duties;
forgetful even of his prejudices.

These conjectures inflamed her fury still more.

Why should she hesitate or tremble after that?

Her only dread now, was lest she should be discovered.

Aunt Medea was, it is true, in the garden; but after the orders she
had received the poor woman would remain motionless as stone behind the
clump of lilacs, the entire night if necessary.

For two hours and a half Marie-Anne would be alone at the Borderie.
Blanche reflected that this would give her ample time to watch the
effects of the poison upon her hated rival.

When the crime was discovered she would be far away. No one knew she
had been absent from Courtornieu; no one had seen her leave the chateau;
Aunt Medea would be as silent as the grave. And besides, who would dare
to accuse her, Marquise de Sairmeuse _nee_ Blanche de Courtornieu, of
being the murderer? \x93But she does not drink it!\x94 Blanche thought.

Marie-Anne had, in fact, forgotten the bouillon entirely. She had opened
the bundle of clothing, and was busily arranging the articles in a
wardrobe near the bed.

Who talks of presentiments. She was as gay and vivacious as in her days
of happiness; and as she worked, she hummed an air that Maurice had
often sung.

She felt that her troubles were nearly over; her friends would soon be
around her.

When her task of putting away the clothing was completed and the
wardrobe closed, she drew a small table up before the fire.

Not until then did she notice the bowl standing upon the mantel.

\x93Stupid!\x94 she said, with a laugh; and taking the bowl she raised it to
her lips.

From her hiding-place Blanche had heard Marie-Anne\x92s exclamation; she
saw the movement, and yet not the slightest remorse struck her soul.

Marie-Anne drank but one mouthful, then, in evident disgust, set the
bowl down.

A horrible dread made the watcher\x92s heart stand still. \x93Does she notice
a peculiar taste in the bouillon?\x94 she thought.

No; but it had grown cold, and a slight coating of grease had formed
over the top. Marie-Anne took the spoon, skimmed the bouillon, and then
stirred it up for some time, to divide the greasy particles.

After she had done this she drank the liquid, put the bowl back upon the
mantel, and resumed her work.

It was done. The _denouement_ no longer depended upon Blanche de
Courtornieu\x92s will. Come what would, she was a murderess.

But though she was conscious of her crime, the excess of her hatred
prevented her from realizing its enormity. She said to herself that
it was only an act of justice which she had accomplished; that the
vengeance she had taken was not proportionate to the offence, and that
nothing could atone for the torture she had endured.

But in a few moments a sinister apprehension took possession of her
mind.

Her knowledge of the effects of poison was extremely limited. She had
expected to see Marie-Anne fall dead before her, as if stricken down by
a thunder-bolt.

But no. The moments slipped by, and Marie-Anne continued her
preparations for supper as if nothing had occurred.

She spread a white cloth over the table, smoothed it with her hands, and
placed a dish upon it.

\x93What if she should come in here!\x94 thought Blanche.

The fear of punishment which precedes remorse, made her heart beat with
such violence that she could not understand why its throbbing were
not heard in the adjoining room. Her terror increased when she saw
Marie-Anne take the light and go downstairs. Blanche was left alone. The
thought of making her escape occurred to her; but how, and by what way
could she leave the house without being seen?

\x93It must be that poison does not work!\x94 she said, in a rage.

Alas! no. She knew better when Marie-Anne reappeared.

In the few moments she had spent below, her features had become
frightfully changed. Her face was livid and mottled with purple spots,
her eyes were distended and glittered with a strange brilliancy. She let
the plates which she held fall upon the table with a crash.

\x93The poison! it begins!\x94 thought Blanche.

Marie-Anne stood on the hearth, gazing wildly around her, as if seeking
the cause of her incomprehensible suffering. She passed and re-passed
her hand across her forehead, which was bathed in a cold perspiration;
she gasped for breath. Then suddenly, overcome with nausea, she
staggered, pressed her hands convulsively upon her breast, and sank into
the armchair, crying:

\x93Oh, God! how I suffer!\x94



CHAPTER XLVI

Kneeling by the half-open door, Blanche eagerly watched the workings of
the poison which she had administered.

She was so near her victim that she could distinguish the throbbing of
her temples, and sometimes she fancied she could feel upon her cheek her
rival\x92s breath, which scorched like flame.

An utter prostration followed Marie-Anne\x92s paroxysm of agony. One would
have supposed her dead had it not been for the convulsive workings of
the jaws and her labored breathing.

But soon the nausea returned, and she was seized with vomiting. Each
effort to relieve seemed to wrench her whole body; and gradually a
ghastly tint crept over her face, the spots upon her cheeks became more
pronounced in tint, her eyes appeared ready to burst from their sockets,
and great drops of perspiration rolled down her cheeks.

Her sufferings must have been intolerable. She moaned feebly at times,
and occasionally rendered heart-rending shrieks. Then she faltered
fragmentary sentences; she begged piteously for water or entreated God
to shorten her torture.

\x93Ah, it is horrible! I suffer too much! Death! My God! grant me death!\x94

She invoked all the friends she had ever known, calling for aid in a
despairing voice.

She called Mme. d\x92Escorval, the abbe, Maurice, her brother,
Chanlouineau, Martial!

Martial, this name was more than sufficient to extinguish all pity in
the heart of Mme. Blanche.

\x93Go on! call your lover, call!\x94 she said to herself, bitterly. \x93He will
come too late.\x94

And as Marie-Anne repeated the name in a tone of agonized entreaty:

\x93Suffer!\x94 continued Mme. Blanche, \x93suffer, you who have inspired Martial
with the odious courage to forsake me, his wife, as a drunken lackey
would abandon the lowest of degraded creatures! Die, and my husband will
return to me repentant.\x94

No, she had no pity. She felt a difficulty in breathing, but that
resulted simply from the instinctive horror which the sufferings of
others inspire--an entirely different physical impression, which is
adorned with the fine name of sensibility, but which is, in reality, the
grossest selfishness.

And yet, Marie-Anne was perceptibly sinking. Soon she had not strength
even to moan; her eyes closed, and after a spasm which brought a bloody
foam to her lips, her head sank back, and she lay motionless.

\x93It is over,\x94 murmured Blanche.

She rose, but her limbs trembled so that she could scarcely stand.

Her heart remained firm and implacable; but the flesh failed.

Never had she imagined a scene like that which she had just witnessed.
She knew that poison caused death; she had not suspected the agony of
that death.

She no longer thought of augmenting Marie-Anne\x92s sufferings by
upbraiding her. Her only desire now was to leave this house, whose very
floor seemed to scorch her feet.

A strange, inexplicable sensation crept over her; it was not yet fright,
it was the stupor that follows the commission of a terrible crime--the
stupor of the murderer.

Still, she compelled herself to wait a few moments longer; then seeing
that Marie-Anne still remained motionless and with closed eyes, she
ventured to softly open the door and to enter the room in which her
victim was lying.

But she had not advanced three steps before Marie-Anne suddenly, and as
if she had been galvanized by an electric battery, rose and extended her
arms to bar her enemy\x92s passage.

This movement was so unexpected and so frightful that Mme. Blanche
recoiled.

\x93The Marquise de Sairmeuse,\x94 faltered Marie-Anne. \x93You, Blanche--here!\x94

And her suffering, explained by the presence of this young girl who once
had been her friend, but who was now her bitterest enemy, she exclaimed:

\x93You are my murderer!\x94

Blanche de Courtornieu\x92s was one of those iron natures that break, but
never bend.

Since she had been discovered, nothing in the world would induce her to
deny her guilt.

She advanced resolutely, and in a firm voice:

\x93Yes,\x94 she said, \x93I have taken my revenge. Do you think I did not suffer
that evening when you sent your brother to take away my newly wedded
husband, upon whose face I have not gazed since?\x94

\x93Your husband! I sent to take him away! I do not understand you.\x94

\x93Do you then dare to deny that you are not Martial\x92s mistress!\x94

\x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse! I saw him yesterday for the first time since
Baron d\x92Escorval\x92s escape.\x94

The effort which she had made to rise and to speak had exhausted her
strength. She fell back in the armchair.

But Blanche was pitiless.

\x93You have not seen Martial! Tell me, then, who gave you this costly
furniture, these silken hangings, all the luxury that surrounds you?\x94

\x93Chanlouineau.\x94

Blanche shrugged her shoulders.

\x93So be it,\x94 she said, with an ironical smile, \x93but is it Chanlouineau
for whom you are waiting this evening? Is it for Chanlouineau you have
warmed these slippers and laid this table? Was it Chanlouineau who sent
his clothing by a peasant named Poignot? You see that I know all----\x94

But her victim was silent.

\x93For whom are you waiting?\x94 she insisted. \x93Answer!\x94

\x93I cannot!\x94

\x93You know that it is your lover! wretched woman--my husband, Martial!\x94

Marie-Anne was considering the situation as well as her intolerable
sufferings and troubled mind would permit.

Could she tell what guests she was expecting?

To name Baron d\x92Escorval to Blanche, would it not ruin and betray him?
They hoped for a safe-conduct, a revision of judgment, but he was none
the less under sentence of death, executory in twenty-four hours.

\x93So you refuse to tell me whom you expect here in an hour--at midnight.\x94

\x93I refuse.\x94

But a sudden impulse took possession of the sufferer\x92s mind.

Though the slightest movement caused her intolerable agony, she tore
open her dress and drew from her bosom a folded paper.

\x93I am not the mistress of the Marquis de Sairmeuse,\x94 she said, in an
almost inaudible voice; \x93I am the wife of Maurice d\x92Escorval. Here is
the proof--read.\x94

No sooner had Blanche glanced at the paper, than she became as pale as
her victim. Her sight failed her; there was a strange ringing in her
ears, a cold sweat started from every pore.

This paper was the marriage-certificate of Maurice and Marie-Anne, drawn
up by the cure of Vigano, witnessed by the old physician and Bavois, and
sealed with the seal of the parish.

The proof was indisputable. She had committed a useless crime; she had
murdered an innocent woman.

The first good impulse of her life made her heart beat more quickly.
She did not stop to consider; she forgot the danger to which she exposed
herself, and in a ringing voice she cried:

\x93Help! help!\x94

Eleven o\x92clock was sounding; the whole country was asleep. The
farm-house nearest the Borderie was half a league distant.

The voice of Blanche was lost in the deep stillness of the night.

In the garden below Aunt Medea heard it, perhaps; but she would have
allowed herself to be chopped in pieces rather than stir from her place.

And yet, there was one who heard that cry of distress. Had Blanche and
her victim been less overwhelmed with despair, they would have heard a
noise upon the staircase which creaked beneath the tread of a man who
was cautiously ascending it. But it was not a saviour, for he did not
answer the appeal. But even though there had been aid near at hand, it
would have come too late.

Marie-Anne felt that there was no longer any hope for her, and that it
was the chill of death which was creeping up to her heart. She felt that
her life was fast ebbing away.

So, when Blanche seemed about to rush out in search of assistance, she
detained her by a gesture, and gently said:

\x93Blanche.\x94

The murderess paused.

\x93Do not summon anyone; it would do no good. Remain; be calm, that I may
at least die in peace. It will not be long now.\x94

\x93Hush! do not speak so. You must not, you shall not die! If you should
die--great God! what would my life be afterward?\x94

Marie-Anne made no reply. The poison was pursuing its work of
dissolution. Her breath made a whistling sound as it forced its way
through her inflamed throat; her tongue, when she moved it, produced in
her mouth the terrible sensation of a piece of red-hot iron; her lips
were parched and swollen; her hands, inert and paralyzed, would no
longer obey her will.

But the horror of the situation restored Blanche\x92s calmness.

\x93All is not yet lost,\x94 she exclaimed. \x93It was in that great box
there upon the table, where I found\x94--she dared not utter the word
poison--\x93the white powder which I poured into the bowl. You know this
powder; you must know the antidote.\x94

Marie-Anne sadly shook her head.

\x93Nothing can save me now,\x94 she murmured, in an almost inaudible voice;
\x93but I do not complain. Who knows the misery from which death may
preserve me? I do not crave life; I have suffered so much during the
past year; I have endured such humiliation; I have wept so much! A curse
was upon me!\x94

She was suddenly endowed with that clearness of mental vision so often
granted to the dying. She saw how she had wrought her own undoing by
consenting to accept the perfidious role imposed upon her by her father,
and how she, herself, had paved the way for the falsehoods, slander,
crimes and misfortunes of which she had been the victim.

Her voice grew fainter and fainter. Worn out by suffering, a sensation
of drowsiness stole over her. She was falling asleep in the arms of
death.

Suddenly such a terrible thought pierced the stupor which enveloped her
that she uttered a heart-breaking cry:

\x93My child!\x94

Collecting, by a superhuman effort, all the will, energy, and strength
that the poison had left her, she straightened herself in her arm-chair,
her features contracted by mortal anguish.

\x93Blanche!\x94 she said, with an energy of which one would have supposed her
incapable. \x93Blanche, listen to me. It is the secret of my life which I
am about to disclose; no one suspects it. I have a son by Maurice. Alas!
many months have elapsed since my husband disappeared. If he is dead,
what will become of my child? Blanche, you, who have killed me, must
swear to me that you will be a mother to my child!\x94

Blanche was utterly overcome.

\x93I swear!\x94 she sobbed, \x93I swear!\x94

\x93On that condition, but on that condition alone, I pardon you. But take
care! Do not forget your oath! Blanche, God sometimes permits the dead
to avenge themselves! You have sworn, remember.

\x93My spirit will allow you no rest if you do not fulfil your vow.\x94

\x93I will remember,\x94 sobbed Blanche; \x93I will remember. But the child----\x94

\x93Ah! I was afraid--cowardly creature that I was! I dreaded the
shame--then Maurice insisted--I sent my child away--your jealousy and
my death are my punishment. Poor child! I abandoned him to strangers.
Wretched woman that I am! Ah! this suffering is too horrible. Blanche,
remember----\x94

She spoke again, but her words were indistinct, inaudible.

Blanche frantically seized the dying woman\x92s arm, and endeavored to
arouse her.

\x93To whom have you confided your child?\x94 she repeated; \x93to whom?
Marie-Anne--a word more--a single word--a name, Marie-Anne!\x94

The unfortunate woman\x92s lips moved, but the death-rattle sounded in her
throat; a terrible convulsion shook her form; she slid down from the
chair, and fell full length upon the floor.

Marie-Anne was dead--dead, and she had not disclosed the name of the old
physician at Vigano to whom she had intrusted her child. She was dead,
and the terrified murderess stood in the middle of the room, as rigid
and motionless as a statue. It seemed to her that madness--a madness
like that which had stricken her father--was developing itself in her
brain.

She forgot everything; she forgot that a guest was expected at midnight,
that time was flying, and that she would surely be discovered if she did
not flee.

But the man who had entered when she cried for aid was watching over
her. When he saw that Marie-Anne had breathed her last, he made a slight
noise at the door, and thrust his leering face into the room.

\x93Chupin!\x94 faltered Mme. Blanche.

\x93In the flesh,\x94 he responded. \x93This was a grand chance for you. Ah, ha!
The business riled your stomach a little, but nonsense! that will soon
pass off. But we must not dawdle here; someone may come in. Let us make
haste.\x94

Mechanically the murderess advanced; but Marie-Anne\x92s dead body lay
between her and the door, barring the passage. To leave the room it
was necessary to step over the lifeless form of her victim. She had not
courage to do this, and recoiled with a shudder.

But Chupin was troubled by no such scruples. He sprang across the body,
lifted Blanche as if she had been a child and carried her out of the
house.

He was drunk with joy. Fears for the future no longer disquieted
him, now that Mme. Blanche was bound to him by the strongest of
chains--complicity in crime.

He saw himself on the threshold of a life of ease and continual
feasting. Remorse for Lacheneur\x92s betrayal had ceased to trouble him. He
saw himself sumptuously fed, lodged and clothed; above all, effectually
guarded by an army of servants.

Blanche, who had experienced a feeling of deadly faintness, was revived
by the cool night air.

\x93I wish to walk,\x94 said she.

Chupin placed her on the ground about twenty paces from the house.

\x93And Aunt Medea!\x94 she exclaimed.

Her relative was beside her; like one of those dogs who are left at the
door when their master enters a house, she had, instinctively followed
her niece on seeing her borne from the cottage by the old poacher.

\x93We must not stop to talk,\x94 said Chupin. \x93Come, I will lead the way.\x94

And taking Blanche by the arm, he hastened toward the grove.

\x93Ah! so Marie-Anne had a child,\x94 he said, as they hurried on. \x93She was
pretending to be such a saint! But where the devil has she put it?\x94

\x93I shall find it.\x94

\x93Hum! That is easier said than done.\x94

A shrill laugh, resounding in the darkness, interrupted him. He released
his hold on the arm of Blanche and assumed an attitude of defence.

Vain precaution! A man concealed behind a tree bounded upon him, and,
plunging his knife four times into the old poacher\x92s writhing body,
cried:

\x93Holy Virgin! now is my vow fulfilled! I shall no longer be obliged to
eat with my fingers!\x94

\x93The innkeeper!\x94 groaned the wounded man, sinking to the earth.

For once in her life, Aunt Medea manifested some energy.

\x93Come!\x94 she shrieked, wild with fear, dragging her niece away. \x93Come--he
is dead!\x94

Not quite. The traitor had strength to crawl home and knock at the door.

His wife and youngest son were sleeping soundly. His eldest son, who had
just returned home, opened the door.

Seeing his father prostrate on the ground, he thought he was
intoxicated, and tried to lift him and carry him into the house, but the
old poacher begged him to desist.

\x93Do not touch me,\x94 said he. \x93It is all over with me; but listen;
Lacheneur\x92s daughter has just been poisoned by Madame Blanche. It was
to tell you this that I dragged myself here. This knowledge is worth a
fortune, my boy, if you are not a fool!\x94

And he died, without being able to tell his family where he had
concealed the price of Lacheneur\x92s blood.



CHAPTER XLVII

Of all the persons who witnessed Baron d\x92Escorval\x92s terrible fall, the
abbe was the only one who did not despair.

What a learned doctor would not have dared to do, he did.

He was a priest; he had faith. He remembered the sublime saying of
Ambroise Pare: \x93I dress the wound: God heals it.\x94

After a six months\x92 sojourn in Father Poignot\x92s secluded farm-house, M.
d\x92Escorval was able to sit up and to walk about a little, with the aid
of crutches.

Then he began to be seriously inconvenienced by his cramped quarters
in the loft, where prudence compelled him to remain; and it was with
transports of joy that he welcomed the idea of taking up his abode at
the Borderie with Marie-Anne.

When the day of departure had been decided upon, he counted the minutes
as impatiently as a school-boy pining for vacation.

\x93I am suffocating here,\x94 he said to his wife. \x93I am suffocating. Time
drags so slowly. When will the happy day come?\x94

It came at last. During the morning all the articles which they
had succeeded in procuring during their stay at the farm-house were
collected and packed; and when night came, Poignot\x92s son began the
moving.

\x93Everything is at the Borderie,\x94 said the honest fellow, on returning
from his last trip, \x93and Mademoiselle Lacheneur bids the baron bring a
good appetite.\x94

\x93I shall have one, never fear!\x94 responded the baron, gayly. \x93We shall
all have one.\x94

Father Poignot himself was busily engaged in harnessing his best horse
to the cart which was to convey M. d\x92Escorval to his new home.

The worthy man\x92s heart grew sad at the thought of the departure of these
guests, for whose sake he had incurred such danger. He felt that he
should miss them, that the house would seem gloomy and deserted after
they left it.

He would allow no one else to perform the task of arranging the mattress
comfortably in the cart. When this had been done to his satisfaction, he
heaved a deep sigh, and exclaimed:

\x93It is time to start!\x94

Slowly he ascended the narrow staircase leading to the loft.

M. d\x92Escorval had not thought of the moment of parting.

At the sight of the honest farmer, who came toward him, his face
crimsoned with emotion to bid him farewell, he forgot all the comforts
that awaited him at the Borderie, in the remembrance of the loyal and
courageous hospitality he had received in the house he was about to
leave. The tears sprang to his eyes.

\x93You have rendered me a service which nothing can repay, Father
Poignot,\x94 he said, with intense feeling. \x93You have saved my life.\x94

\x93Oh! we will not talk of that, Baron. In my place, you would have done
the same--neither more nor less.\x94

\x93I shall not attempt to express my thanks, but I hope to live long
enough to prove that I am not ungrateful.\x94

The staircase was so narrow that they had considerable difficulty in
carrying the baron down; but finally they had him comfortably extended
upon his mattress and threw over him a few handsful of straw, which
concealed him entirely.

\x93Farewell, then!\x94 said the old farmer, when the last hand-shake had been
exchanged, \x93or rather _au revoir_, Monsieur le Baron, Madame, and you,
my good cure.\x94

\x93All ready?\x94 inquired young Poignot.

\x93Yes,\x94 replied the invalid.

The cart, driven with the utmost caution by the young peasant, started
slowly on its way.

Mme. d\x92Escorval, leaning upon the abbe\x92s arm, walked about twenty paces
in the rear.

It was very dark, but had it been as light as day the former cure of
Sairmeuse might have encountered any of his old parishioners without the
least danger of detection.

His hair and his beard had been allowed to grow; his tonsure had
entirely disappeared, and his sedentary life had caused him to become
much stouter. He was clad like all the well-to-do peasants of the
neighborhood, and his face was hidden by a large slouch hat.

He had not felt so tranquil in mind for months. Obstacles which had
appeared almost insurmountable had vanished. In the near future he
saw the baron declared innocent by impartial judges; he saw himself
reinstalled in the presbytery of Sairmeuse.

The recollection of Maurice was the only thing that marred his
happiness. Why did he not give some sign of life?

\x93But if he had met with any misfortune we should have heard of it,\x94
 thought the priest. \x93He has with him a brave man--an old soldier who
would risk anything to come and tell us.\x94

He was so absorbed in these thoughts that he did not observe that Mme.
d\x92Escorval was leaning more and more heavily upon his arm.

\x93I am ashamed to confess it,\x94 she said at last, \x93but I can go no
farther. It has been so long since I was out of doors that I have almost
forgotten how to walk.\x94

\x93Fortunately, we are almost there,\x94 replied the priest.

A moment after young Poignot stopped his cart in the road, at the
entrance of the little footpath leading to the Borderie.

\x93Our journey is ended!\x94 he remarked to the baron. Then he uttered a
low whistle, like that which he had given a few hours before, to warn
Marie-Anne of his arrival.

No one appeared; he whistled again, louder this time; then with all his
might--still no response.

Mme. d\x92Escorval and the abbe had now overtaken the cart.

\x93It is very strange that Marie-Anne does not hear me,\x94 remarked young
Poignot, turning to them. \x93We cannot take the baron to the house until
we have seen her. She knows that very well. Shall I run up and warn
her?\x94

\x93She is asleep, perhaps,\x94 replied the abbe; \x93you stay with your horse,
my boy, and I will go and wake her.\x94

Certainly he did not feel the slightest disquietude. All was calm and
still; a bright light was shining through the windows of the second
story.

Still, when he saw the open door, a vague presentiment of evil stirred
his heart.

\x93What can this mean?\x94 he thought.

There was no light in the lower rooms, and the abbe was obliged to feel
for the staircase with his hands. At last he found it and went up. But
upon the threshold of the chamber he paused, petrified with horror by
the spectacle before him.

Poor Marie-Anne was lying on the floor. Her eyes, which were wide open,
were covered with a white film; her black and swollen tongue was hanging
from her mouth.

\x93Dead!\x94 faltered the priest, \x93dead!\x94

But this could not be. The abbe conquered his weakness, and approaching
the poor girl, he took her hand.

It was icy cold; the arm was rigid as iron.

\x93Poisoned!\x94 he murmured; \x93poisoned with arsenic.\x94

He rose to his feet, and cast a bewildered glance around the room. His
eyes fell upon his medicine-chest, open upon the table.

He rushed to it and unhesitatingly took out a vial, uncorked it, and
inverted it on the palm of his hand--it was empty.

\x93I was not mistaken!\x94 he exclaimed.

But he had no time to lose in conjectures.

The first thing to be done was to induce the baron to return to the
farm-house without telling him the terrible misfortune which had
occurred.

To find a pretext was easy enough.

The priest hastened back to the wagon, and with well-affected calmness
told the baron that it would be impossible for him to take up his abode
at the Borderie at present, that several suspicious-looking characters
had been seen prowling about, and that they must be more prudent than
ever, now they could rely upon the kindly intervention of Martial de
Sairmeuse.

At last, but not without considerable reluctance, the baron yielded.

\x93You desire it, cure,\x94 he sighed, \x93so I obey. Come, Poignot, my boy,
take me back to your father\x92s house.\x94

Mme. d\x92Escorval took a seat in the cart beside her husband; the priest
watched them as they drove away, and not until the sound of their
carriage-wheels had died away in the distance did he venture to go back
to the Borderie.

He was ascending the stairs when he heard moans that seemed to issue
from the chamber of death. The sound sent all his blood wildly rushing
to his heart. He darted up the staircase.

A man was kneeling beside Marie-Anne, weeping bitterly. The expression
of his face, his attitude, his sobs betrayed the wildest despair. He was
so lost in grief that he did not observe the abbe\x92s entrance.

Who was this mourner who had found his way to the house of death?

After a moment, the priest divined who the intruder was, though he did
not recognize him.

\x93Jean!\x94 he cried, \x93Jean Lacheneur!\x94

With a bound the young man was on his feet, pale and menacing; a flame
of anger drying the tears in his eyes.

\x93Who are you?\x94 he demanded, in a terrible voice. \x93What are you doing
here? What do you wish with me?\x94

By his peasant dress and by his long beard, the former cure of Sairmeuse
was so effectually disguised that he was obliged to tell who he really
was.

As soon as he uttered his name, Jean uttered a cry of joy.

\x93God has sent you here!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Marie-Anne cannot be dead! You,
who have saved so many others, will save her.\x94

As the priest sadly pointed to heaven, Jean paused, his face more
ghastly than before. He understood now that there was no hope.

\x93Ah!\x94 he murmured, with an accent of frightful despondency, \x93fate
shows us no mercy. I have been watching over Marie-Anne, though from
a distance; and this very evening I was coming to say to her: \x91Beware,
sister--be cautious!\x92\x94

\x93What! you knew----\x94

\x93I knew she was in great danger; yes, Monsieur. An hour ago, while I was
eating my supper in a restaurant at Sairmeuse, Grollet\x92s son entered.
\x91Is this you, Jean?\x92 said he. \x91I just saw Chupin hiding near your
sister\x92s house; when he observed me he slunk away.\x92 I ran here like
one crazed. But when fate is against a man, what can he do? I came too
late!\x94

The abbe reflected for a moment.

\x93Then you suppose that it was Chupin?\x94

\x93I do not suppose, sir; I _swear_ that it was he--the miserable
traitor!--who committed this foul deed.\x94

\x93Still, what motive could he have had?\x94

Jean burst into one of those discordant laughs that are, perhaps, the
most frightful signs of despair.

\x93You may rest assured that the blood of the daughter will yield him
a richer reward than did the father\x92s. Chupin has been the vile
instrument; but it was not he who conceived the crime. You will have to
seek higher for the culprit, much higher, in the finest chateau of the
country, in the midst of an army of valets at Sairmeuse, in short!\x94

\x93Wretched man, what do you mean?\x94

\x93What I say.\x94

And coldly, he added:

\x93Martial de Sairmeuse is the assassin.\x94 The priest recoiled, really
appalled by the looks and manner of the grief-stricken man.

\x93You are mad!\x94 he said, severely.

But Jean gravely shook his head.

\x93If I seem so to you, sir,\x94 he replied, \x93it is only because you are
ignorant of Martial\x92s wild passion for Marie-Anne. He wished to make
her his mistress. She had the audacity to refuse this honor; that was
a crime for which she must be punished. When the Marquis de Sairmeuse
became convinced that Lacheneur\x92s daughter would never be his, he
poisoned her that she might not belong to another.\x94

Any attempt to convince Jean of the folly of his accusation would have
been vain at that moment. No proofs would have convinced him. He would
have closed his eyes to all evidence.

\x93To-morrow, when he is more calm, I will reason with him,\x94 thought the
abbe; then, turning to Jean, he said:

\x93We cannot allow the body of the poor girl to remain here upon the
floor. Assist me, and we will place it upon the bed.\x94

Jean trembled from head to foot, and his hesitation was apparent.

\x93Very well!\x94 he said, at last, after a severe struggle.

No one had ever slept upon this bed which poor Chanlouineau had destined
for Marie-Anne.

\x93It shall be for her,\x94 he said to himself, \x93or for no one.\x94

And it was Marie-Anne who rested there first--dead.

When this sad task was accomplished, he threw himself into the same
arm-chair in which Marie-Anne had breathed her last, and with his face
buried in his hands, and his elbows supported upon his knees, he sat
there as silent and motionless as the statues of sorrow placed above the
last resting-places of the dead.

The abbe knelt at the head of the bed and began the recital of the
prayers for the dead, entreating God to grant peace and happiness in
heaven to her who had suffered so much upon earth.

But he prayed only with his lips. In spite of his efforts, his mind
would persist in wandering.

He was striving to solve the mystery that enshrouded Marie-Anne\x92s death.
Had she been murdered? Could it be that she had committed suicide?

This explanation recurred to him, but he could not believe it.

But, on the other hand, how could her death possibly be the result of a
crime?

He had carefully examined the room, and he had discovered nothing that
betrayed the presence of a stranger.

All that he could prove was, that his vial of arsenic was empty, and
that Marie-Anne had been poisoned by the bouillon, a few drops of which
were left in the bowl that was standing upon the mantel.

\x93When daylight comes,\x94 thought the abbe, \x93I will look outside.\x94

When morning broke, he went into the garden, and made a careful
examination of the premises.

At first he saw nothing that gave him the least clew, and was about to
abandon the investigations, when, upon entering the little grove, he saw
in the distance a large dark stain upon the grass. He went nearer--it
was blood!

Much excited, he summoned Jean, to inform him of the discovery.

\x93Someone has been assassinated here,\x94 said Lacheneur; \x93and it happened
last night, for the blood has not had time to dry.\x94

\x93The victim lost a great deal of blood,\x94 the priest remarked; \x93it might
be possible to discover who he was by following up these stains.\x94

\x93I am going to try,\x94 responded Jean. \x93Go back to the house, sir; I will
soon return.\x94

A child might have followed the track of the wounded man, the
blood-stains left in his passage were so frequent and so distinct.

These tell-tale marks stopped at Chupin\x92s house. The door was closed;
Jean rapped without the slightest hesitation.

The old poacher\x92s eldest son opened the door, and Jean saw a strange
spectacle.

The traitor\x92s body had been thrown on the ground, in a corner of the
room, the bed was overturned and broken, all the straw had been torn
from the mattress, and the wife and sons of the dead man, armed with
pickaxes and spades, were wildly overturning the beaten soil that formed
the floor of the hovel. They were seeking the hidden treasures.

\x93What do you want?\x94 demanded the widow, rudely.

\x93Father Chupin.\x94

\x93You can see very plainly that he has been murdered,\x94 replied one of the
sons.

And brandishing his pick a few inches from Jean\x92s head, he exclaimed:

\x93And you, perhaps, are the assassin. But that is for justice to
determine. Now, decamp; if you do not----\x94

Had he listened to the promptings of anger, Jean Lacheneur would
certainly have attempted to make the Chupins repent their menaces.

But a conflict was scarcely permissible under the circumstances.

He departed without a word, and hastened back to the Borderie.

The death of Chupin overturned all his plans, and greatly irritated him.

\x93I had sworn that the vile wretch who betrayed my father should perish
by my hand,\x94 he murmured; \x93and now my vengeance has escaped me. Someone
has robbed me of it.\x94

Then he asked himself who the murderer could be.

\x93Is it possible that Martial assassinated Chupin after he murdered
Marie-Anne? To kill an accomplice is an effectual way of assuring one\x92s
self of his silence.\x94

He had reached the Borderie, and was about going upstairs, when he
thought he heard the sound of voices in the back room.

\x93That is strange,\x94 he said to himself. \x93Who can it be?\x94

And impelled by curiosity, he went and tapped upon the communicating
door.

The abbe instantly made his appearance, hurriedly closing the door
behind him. He was very pale, and visibly agitated.

\x93Who is it?\x94 inquired Jean, eagerly.

\x93It is--it is. Guess who it is.\x94

\x93How can I guess?\x94

\x93Maurice d\x92Escorval and Corporal Bavois.\x94

\x93My God!\x94

\x93And it is a miracle that he has not been upstairs.\x94

\x93But whence does he come? Why have we received no news of him?\x94

\x93I do not know. He has been here only five minutes. Poor boy! after
I told him that his father was safe, his first words were: \x91And
Marie-Anne?\x92 He loves her more devotedly than ever. He comes with his
heart full of her, confident and hopeful; and I tremble--I fear to tell
him the truth.\x94

\x93Oh, terrible! terrible!\x94

\x93I have warned you; be prudent--and now, come in.\x94

They entered the room together; and Maurice and the old soldier greeted
Jean with the most ardent expressions of friendship.

They had not seen each other since the duel on the Reche, which had been
interrupted by the arrival of the soldiers; and when they parted that
day they scarcely expected to meet again.

\x93And now we are together once more,\x94 said Maurice, gayly, \x93and we have
nothing to fear.\x94

Never had the unfortunate man seemed so cheerful; and it was with the
most jubilant air that he explained the reason of his long silence.

\x93Three days after we crossed the frontier,\x94 said he, \x93Corporal Bavois
and I reached Turin. It was time, for we were tired out. We went to a
small inn, and they gave us a room with two beds.

\x93That evening, while we were undressing, the corporal said to me: \x91I
am capable of sleeping two whole days without waking.\x92 I, too, promised
myself a rest of at least twelve hours. We reckoned without our host, as
you will see.

\x93It was scarcely daybreak when we were awakened by a great tumult. A
dozen rough-looking men entered our room, and ordered us, in Italian, to
dress ourselves. They were too strong for us, so we obeyed; and an hour
later we were in prison, confined in the same cell. Our reflections, I
confess, were not _couleur de rose_.

\x93I well remember how the corporal said again and again, in that cool way
of his: \x91It will require four days to obtain our extradition, three days
to take us back to Montaignac--that is seven days; it will take one day
more to try me; so I have in all eight days to live.\x92\x94

\x93Upon my word! that was exactly what I thought,\x94 said the old soldier,
approvingly.

\x93For five months,\x94 continued Maurice, \x93instead of saying \x91good-night\x92 to
each other, we said: \x91To-morrow they will come for us.\x92 But they did not
come.

\x93We were kindly treated. They did not take away my money; and they
willingly sold us little luxuries; they also granted us two hours of
exercise each day in the court-yard, and even loaned us books to read.
In short, I should not have had any particular cause to complain, if I
had been allowed to receive or to forward letters, or if I had been able
to communicate with my father or with Marie-Anne. But we were in the
secret cells, and were not allowed to have any intercourse with the
other prisoners.

\x93At length our detention seemed so strange and became so insupportable
to us, that we resolved to obtain some explanation of it, cost what it
might.

\x93We changed our tactics. Up to that time we had been quite submissive;
we suddenly became violent and intractable. We made the prison resound
with our cries and protestations; we were continually sending for the
superintendent; we claimed the intervention of the French ambassador. We
were not obliged to wait long for the result.

\x93One fine afternoon, the superintendent released us, not without
expressing much regret at being deprived of the society of such amiable
and charming guests.

\x93Our first act, as you may suppose, was to run to the ambassador. We did
not see that dignitary, but his secretary received us. He knit his brows
when I told my story, and became excessively grave. I remember each word
of his reply.

\x93\x91Monsieur,\x92 said he, \x91I can swear that the persecution of which you
have been the object in France had nothing whatever to do with your
detention here.\x92

\x93And as I expressed my astonishment:

\x93\x91One moment,\x92 he added. \x91I shall express my opinion very frankly. One
of your enemies--I leave you to discover which one--must exert a very
powerful influence in Turin. You were in his way, perhaps; he had you
imprisoned by the Piedmontese police.\x92\x94

With a heavy blow of his clinched fist, Jean Lacheneur made the table
beside him reel.

\x93Ah! the secretary was right!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Maurice, it was Martial de
Sairmeuse who caused your arrest----\x94

\x93Or the Marquis de Courtornieu,\x94 interrupted the abbe, with a warning
glance at Jean.

A wrathful light gleamed for an instant in the eyes of Maurice; but it
vanished almost immediately, and he shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

\x93Nonsense,\x94 said he, \x93I do not wish to trouble myself any more about
the past. My father is well again, that is the main thing. We can easily
find some way of getting him safely across the frontier. Marie-Anne
and I, by our devotion, will strive to make him forget that my rashness
almost cost him his life. He is so good, so indulgent to the faults of
others. We will take up our residence in Italy or in Switzerland. You
will accompany us, Monsieur l\x92Abbe, and you also, Jean. As for you,
corporal, it is decided that you belong to our family.\x94

Nothing could be more horrible than to see this man, upon whose life
such a terrible blight was about to fall, so bright and full of hope and
confidence.

The impression produced upon Jean and the abbe was so terrible, that,
in spite of their efforts, it showed itself in their faces; and Maurice
remarked their agitation.

\x93What is the matter?\x94 he inquired, in evident surprise.

They trembled, hung their heads, but did not say a word.

The unfortunate man\x92s astonishment changed to a vague, inexpressible
fear.

He enumerated all the misfortunes which could possibly have befallen
him.

\x93What has happened?\x94 he asked, in a stifled voice. \x93My father is safe,
is he not? You said that my mother would desire nothing, if I were with
her again. Is it Marie-Anne----\x94

He hesitated.

\x93Courage, Maurice,\x94 murmured the abbe. \x93Courage!\x94

The stricken man tottered as if about to fall; his face grew whiter than
the plastered wall against which he leaned for support.

\x93Marie-Anne is dead!\x94 he exclaimed.

Jean and the abbe were silent.

\x93Dead!\x94 Maurice repeated--\x93and no secret voice warned me! Dead! when?\x94

\x93She died only last night,\x94 replied Jean.

Maurice rose.

\x93Last night?\x94 said he. \x93In that case, then, she is still here. Where?
upstairs?\x94

And without waiting for any response, he darted toward the staircase so
quickly that neither Jean nor the abbe had time to intercept him.

With three bounds he reached the chamber; he walked straight to the
bed, and with a firm hand turned back the sheet that hid the face of the
dead.

He recoiled with a heart-broken cry.

Was this indeed the beautiful, the radiant Marie-Anne, whom he had loved
to his own undoing! He did not recognize her.

He could not recognize these distorted features, this face swollen and
discolored by poison, these eyes which were almost concealed by the
purple swelling around them.

When Jean and the priest entered the room they found him standing with
head thrown back, eyes dilated with terror, and rigid arm extended
toward the corpse.

\x93Maurice,\x94 said the priest, gently, \x93be calm. Courage!\x94

He turned with an expression of complete bewilderment upon his features.

\x93Yes,\x94 he faltered, \x93that is what I need--courage!\x94

He staggered; they were obliged to support him to an arm-chair.

\x93Be a man,\x94 continued the priest; \x93where is your energy? To live, is to
suffer.\x94

He listened, but did not seem to comprehend.

\x93Live!\x94 he murmured, \x93why should I desire to live since she is dead?\x94

The dread light of insanity glittered in his dry eyes. The abbe was
alarmed.

\x93If he does not weep, he will lose his reason!\x94 he thought.

And in an imperious voice, he said:

\x93You have no right to despair thus; you owe a sacred duty to your
child.\x94

He recoiled with a heart-broken cry.

The recollection which had given Marie-Anne strength to hold death at
bay for a moment, saved Maurice from the dangerous torpor into which he
was sinking. He trembled as if he had received an electric shock, and
springing from his chair:

\x93That is true,\x94 he cried. \x93Take me to my child.\x94

\x93Not just now, Maurice; wait a little.\x94

\x93Where is it? Tell me where it is.\x94

\x93I cannot; I do not know.\x94

An expression of unspeakable anguish stole over the face of Maurice, and
in a husky voice he said:

\x93What! you do not know! Did she not confide in you?\x94

\x93No. I suspected her secret. I alone----\x94

\x93You, alone! Then the child is dead, perhaps. Even if it is living, who
can tell me where it is?\x94

\x93We shall undoubtedly find something that will give us a clew.\x94

\x93You are right,\x94 faltered the wretched man. \x93When Marie-Anne knew that
her life was in danger, she would not have forgotten her child. Those
who cared for her in her last moments must have received some message
for me. I wish to see those who watched over her. Who were they?\x94

The priest averted his face.

\x93I asked you who was with her when she died,\x94 repeated Maurice, in a
sort of frenzy.

And, as the abbe remained silent, a terrible light dawned on the mind
of the stricken man. He understood the cause of Marie-Anne\x92s distorted
features now.

\x93She perished the victim of a crime!\x94 he exclaimed.

\x93Some monster has killed her. If she died such a death, our child is
lost forever! And it was I who recommended, who commanded the greatest
precautions! Ah! it is a curse upon me!\x94

He sank back in his chair, overwhelmed with sorrow and remorse, and
silent tears rolled slowly down his cheeks.

\x93He is saved!\x94 thought the abbe, whose heart bled at the sight of such
despair. Suddenly someone plucked him by the sleeve.

It was Jean Lacheneur, and he drew the priest into the embrasure of a
window.

\x93What is this about a child?\x94 he asked, harshly.

A flood of crimson suffused the brow of the priest.

\x93You have heard,\x94 he responded, laconically.

\x93Am I to understand that Marie-Anne was the mistress of Maurice, and
that she had a child by him? Is this true? I will not--I cannot believe
it! She, whom I revered as a saint! Did her pure forehead and her
chaste looks lie? And he--Maurice--he whom I loved as a brother! So, his
friendship was only a mask assumed to enable him to steal our honor!\x94

He hissed these words through his set teeth in such low tones that
Maurice, absorbed in his agony of grief, did not overhear him.

\x93But how did she conceal her shame?\x94 he continued. \x93No one suspected
it--absolutely no one. And what has she done with her child? Appalled by
a dread of disgrace, did she commit the crime committed by so many other
ruined and forsaken women? Did she murder her own child?\x94

A hideous smile curved his thin lips.

\x93If the child is alive,\x94 he added, \x93I will find it, and Maurice shall
be punished for his perfidy as he deserves.\x94 He paused; the sound of
horses\x92 hoofs upon the road attracted his attention, and that of Abbe
Midon.

They glanced out of the window and saw a horseman stop before the little
footpath, alight from his horse, throw the reins to his groom, and
advance toward the Borderie.

At the sight of the visitor, Jean Lacheneur uttered the frightful howl
of an infuriated wild beast.

\x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse here!\x94 he exclaimed.

He sprang to Maurice, and shaking him violently, he cried:

\x93Up! here is Martial, Marie-Anne\x92s murderer! Up! he is coming! he is at
our mercy!\x94

Maurice sprang up in a fury of passion, but the abbe darted to the door
and intercepted the infuriated men as they were about to leave the room.

\x93Not a word, young men, not a threat!\x94 he said, imperiously. \x93I forbid
it. At least respect the dead who is lying here!\x94

There was such an irresistible authority in his words and glance, that
Jean and Maurice stood as if turned to stone.

Before the priest had time to say more, Martial was there.

He did not cross the threshold. With a glance he took in the whole
scene; he turned very pale, but not a gesture, not a word escaped his
lips.

Wonderful as was his accustomed control over himself, he could not
articulate a syllable; and it was only by pointing to the bed upon which
Marie-Anne\x92s lifeless form was reposing, that he asked an explanation.

\x93She was infamously poisoned last evening,\x94 replied the abbe, sadly.

Maurice, forgetting the priest\x92s commands, stepped forward.

\x93She was alone and defenceless. I have been at liberty only two days.
But I know the name of the man who had me arrested at Turin, and thrown
into prison. They told me the coward\x92s name!\x94

Instinctively Martial recoiled.

\x93It was you, infamous wretch!\x94 exclaimed Maurice. \x93You confess your
guilt, scoundrel?\x94

Once again the abbe interposed; he threw himself between the rivals,
persuaded that Martial was about to attack Maurice.

But no; the Marquis de Sairmeuse had resumed the haughty and indifferent
manner which was habitual to him. He took from his pocket a bulky
envelope, and throwing it upon the table:

\x93Here,\x94 he said coldly, \x93is what I was bringing to Mademoiselle
Lacheneur. It contains first a safe-conduct from His Majesty for
Monsieur d\x92Escorval. From this moment, he is at liberty to leave
Poignot\x92s farm-house and return to Escorval. He is free, he is saved, he
is granted a new trial, and there can be no doubt of his acquittal. Here
is also a decree of his non-complicity rendered in favor of Abbe Midon,
and an order from the bishop which reinstates him as Cure of Sairmeuse;
and lastly, a discharge, drawn up in due form, and an acknowledged right
to a pension in the name of Corporal Bavois.\x94

He paused, and as his astonished hearers stood rooted to their places
with wonder, he turned and approached Marie-Anne\x92s bedside.

With hand uplifted to heaven over the lifeless form of her whom he had
loved, and in a voice that would have made the murderess tremble in her
innermost soul, he said, solemnly:

\x93To you, Marie-Anne, I swear that I will avenge you!\x94

For a few seconds he stood motionless, then suddenly he stopped, pressed
a kiss upon the dead girl\x92s brow, and left the room.

\x93And you think that man can be guilty!\x94 exclaimed the abbe. \x93You see,
Jean, that you are mad!\x94

\x93And this last insult to my dead sister is an honor, I suppose,\x94 said
Jean, with a furious gesture.

\x93And the wretch binds my hands by saving my father!\x94 exclaimed Maurice.

From his place by the window, the abbe saw Martial remount his horse.

But the marquis did not take the road to Montaignac. It was toward the
Chateau de Courtornieu that he hastened.



CHAPTER XLVIII

The reason of Mme. Blanche had sustained a frightful shock, when Chupin
was obliged to lift her and carry her from Marie-Anne\x92s chamber.

But she lost consciousness entirely when she saw the old poacher
stricken down by her side.

On and after that night Aunt Medea took her revenge for all the slights
she had received.

Scarcely tolerated until then at Courtornieu, she henceforth made
herself respected, and even feared.

She, who usually swooned if a kitten hurt itself, did not utter a cry.
Her extreme fear gave her the courage that not unfrequently animates
cowards when they are in some dire extremity.

She seized the arm of her bewildered niece, and, by dint of dragging and
pushing, had her back at the chateau in much less time than it had taken
them to go to the Borderie.

It was half-past one o\x92clock when they reached the little garden-gate,
by which they had left the grounds.

No one in the chateau was aware of their long absence.

This was due to several different circumstances. First, to the
precautions taken by Blanche, who had given orders, before going out,
that no one should come to her room, on any pretext whatever, unless she
rang.

It also chanced to be the birthday of the marquis\x92s _valet de chambre_.
The servants had dined more sumptuously than usual. They had toasts
and songs over their dessert; and at the conclusion of the repast, they
amused themselves by an extempore ball.

They were still dancing at half-past one; all the doors were open, and
the two ladies succeeded in gaining the chamber of Blanche without being
observed.

When the doors of the apartment had been securely closed, and when there
was no longer any fear of listeners, Aunt Medea attacked her niece.

\x93Now will you explain what happened at the Borderie; and what you were
doing there?\x94 she inquired.

Blanche shuddered.

\x93Why do you wish to know?\x94 she asked.

\x93Because I suffered agony during the three hours that I spent in waiting
for you. What was the meaning of those despairing cries that I heard?
Why did you call for aid? I heard a death-rattle that made my hair stand
on end with terror. Why was it necessary for Chupin to bring you out in
his arms?\x94

Aunt Medea would have packed her trunks, perhaps, that very evening, had
she seen the glance which her niece bestowed upon her.

Blanche longed for power to annihilate this relative--this witness who
might ruin her by a word, but whom she would ever have beside her, a
living reproach for her crime.

\x93You do not answer me,\x94 insisted Aunt Medea.

Blanche was trying to decide whether it would be better for her to
reveal the truth, horrible as it was, or to invent some plausible
explanation.

To confess all! It would be intolerable. She would place herself, body
and soul, in Aunt Medea\x92s power.

But, on the other hand, if she deceived her, was it not more than
probable that her aunt would betray her by some involuntary exclamation
when she heard of the crime which had been committed at the Borderie?

\x93For she is so stupid!\x94 thought Blanche.

She felt that it would be the wisest plan, under such circumstances, to
be perfectly frank, to teach her relative her lesson, and to imbue her
with some of her own firmness.

Having come to this conclusion, she disdained all concealment.

\x93Ah, well!\x94 she said, \x93I was jealous of Marie-Anne. I thought she was
Martial\x92s mistress. I was half crazed, and I killed her.\x94

She expected despairing cries, or a fainting fit; nothing of the kind.
Stupid though Aunt Medea was, she had divined the truth before she
interrogated her niece. Besides, the insults she had received for years
had extinguished every generous sentiment, dried up the springs of
emotion, and destroyed every particle of moral sensibility she had ever
possessed.

\x93Ah!\x94 she exclaimed, \x93it is terrible! What if it should be discovered!\x94

Then she shed a few tears, but not more than she had often wept for some
trifle.

Blanche breathed more freely. Surely she could count upon the silence
and absolute submission of her dependent relative. Convinced of this,
she began to recount all the details of the frightful drama which had
been enacted at the Borderie.

She yielded to a desire which was stronger than her own will; to the
wild longing that sometimes unbinds the tongue of the worst criminals,
and forces them--irresistibly impels them--to talk of their crimes, even
when they distrust their confidant.

But when she came to the proofs which had convinced her of her
lamentable mistake, she suddenly paused in dismay.

That certificate of marriage signed by the Cure of Vigano; what had she
done with it? where was it? She remembered holding it in her hands.

She sprang up, examined the pocket of her dress and uttered a cry of
joy. She had it safe. She threw it into a drawer, and turned the key.

Aunt Medea wished to retire to her own room, but Blanche entreated her
to remain. She was unwilling to be left alone--she dared not--she was
afraid.

And as if she desired to silence the inward voice that tormented her,
she talked with extreme volubility, repeating again and again that she
was ready to do anything in expiation of her crime, and that she would
brave impossibilities to recover Marie-Anne\x92s child.

And certainly, the task was both difficult and dangerous.

If she sought the child openly, it would be equivalent to a confession
of guilt. She would be compelled to act secretly, and with great
caution.

\x93But I shall succeed,\x94 she said. \x93I will spare no expense.\x94

And remembering her vow, and the threats of her dying victim, she added:

\x93I must succeed. I have sworn--and I was forgiven under those
conditions.\x94

Astonishment dried the ever ready tears of Aunt Medea.

That her niece, with her dreadful crime still fresh in her mind, could
coolly reason, deliberate, and make plans for the future, seemed to her
incomprehensible.

\x93What an iron will!\x94 she thought.

But in her bewilderment she quite overlooked something that would have
enlightened any ordinary observer.

Blanche was seated upon her bed, her hair was unbound, her eyes were
glittering with delirium, and her incoherent words and her excited
gestures betrayed the frightful anxiety that was torturing her.

And she talked and talked, exclaiming, questioning Aunt Medea, and
forcing her to reply, only that she might escape from her own thoughts.

Morning had dawned some time before, and the servants were heard
bustling about the chateau, and Blanche, oblivious to all around
her, was still explaining how she could, in less than a year, restore
Marie-Anne\x92s child to Maurice d\x92Escorval.

She paused abruptly in the middle of a sentence.

Instinct had suddenly warned her of the danger she incurred in making
the slightest change in her habits.

She sent Aunt Medea away, then, at the usual hour, rang for her maid.

It was nearly eleven o\x92clock, and she was just completing her toilet,
when the ringing of the bell announced a visitor.

Almost immediately a maid appeared, evidently in a state of great
excitement.

\x93What is it?\x94 inquired Blanche, eagerly. \x93Who has come?\x94

\x93Ah, Madame--that is, Mademoiselle, if you only knew----\x94

\x93_Will_ you speak?\x94

\x93The Marquis de Sairmeuse is below, in the blue drawing-room; and he
begs Mademoiselle to grant him a few moments\x92 conversation.\x94

Had a thunder-bolt riven the earth at the feet of the murderess, she
could not have been more terrified.

\x93All must have been discovered!\x94 this was her first thought. That alone
would have brought Martial there.

She almost decided to reply that she was not at home, or that she
was extremely ill; but reason told her that she was alarming herself
needlessly, perhaps, and that, in any case, the worst was preferable to
suspense.

\x93Tell the marquis that I will be there in a moment,\x94 she replied.

She desired a few minutes of solitude to compose her features, to regain
her self-possession, if possible, and to conquer the nervous trembling
that made her shake like a leaf.

But just as she was most disquieted by the thought of her peril, a
sudden inspiration brought a malicious smile to her lip.

\x93Ah!\x94 she thought, \x93my agitation will seem perfectly natural. It may
even be made of service.\x94

As she descended the grand staircase, she could not help saying to
herself:

\x93Martial\x92s presence here is incomprehensible.\x94

It was certainly very extraordinary; and it had not been without much
hesitation that he resolved upon this painful step.

But it was the only means of procuring several important documents which
were indispensable in the revision of M. d\x92Escorval\x92s case.

These documents, after the baron\x92s condemnation, had been left in the
hands of the Marquis de Courtornieu. Now that he had lost his reason, it
was impossible to ask him for them; and Martial was obliged to apply
to the daughter for permission to search for them among her father\x92s
papers.

This was why Martial said to himself that morning:

\x93I will carry the baron\x92s safe-conduct to Marie-Anne, and then I will
push on to Courtornieu.\x94

He arrived at the Borderie gay and confident, his heart full of hope.
Alas! Marie-Anne was dead.

No one would ever know what a terrible blow it had been to Martial; and
his conscience told him that he was not free from blame; that he had, at
least, rendered the execution of the crime an easy matter.

For it was indeed he who, by abusing his influence, had caused the
arrest of Maurice at Turin.

But though he was capable of the basest perfidy when his love was at
stake, he was incapable of virulent animosity.

Marie-Anne was dead; he had it in his power to revoke the benefits he
had conferred, but the thought of doing so never once occurred to him.
And when Jean and Maurice insulted him, he revenged himself only by
overwhelming them by his magnanimity. When he left the Borderie, pale
as a ghost, his lips still cold from the kiss pressed on the brow of the
dead, he said to himself:

\x93For her sake, I will go to Courtornieu. In memory of her, the baron
must be saved.\x94

By the expression on the faces of the valets when he dismounted in the
court-yard of the chateau and asked to see Mme. Blanche, the marquis
was again reminded of the profound sensation which this unexpected visit
would produce. But, what did it matter to him? He was passing through
one of those crises in which the mind can conceive of no further
misfortune, and is therefore indifferent to everything.

Still he trembled when they ushered him into the blue drawing-room.
He remembered the room well. It was here that Blanche had been wont to
receive him in days gone by, when his fancy was vacillating between her
and Marie-Anne.

How many pleasant hours they had passed together here! He seemed to see
Blanche again, as she was then, radiant with youth, gay and laughing.
Her naivete was affected, perhaps, but was it any the less charming on
that account?

At this very moment Blanche entered the room. She looked so careworn
and sad that he scarcely knew her. His heart was touched by the look of
patient sorrow imprinted upon her features.

\x93How much you must have suffered, Blanche,\x94 he murmured, scarcely
knowing what he said.

It cost her an effort to repress her secret joy. She saw that he knew
nothing of her crime. She noticed his emotion, and saw the profit she
could derive from it.

\x93I can never cease to regret having displeased you,\x94 she replied, humbly
and sadly. \x93I shall never be consoled.\x94

She had touched the vulnerable spot in every man\x92s heart.

For there is no man so sceptical, so cold, or so _blase_ that his vanity
is not pleased with the thought that a woman is dying for his sake.

There is no man who is not moved by this most delicious flattery,
and who is not ready and willing to give, at least, a tender pity in
exchange for such devotion.

\x93Is it possible that you could forgive me?\x94 stammered Martial.

The wily enchantress averted her face as if to prevent him from reading
in her eyes a weakness of which she was ashamed. It was the most
eloquent of replies.

But Martial said no more on this subject. He made known his petition,
which was granted, then fearing, perhaps, to promise too much, he said:

\x93Since you do not forbid it, Blanche, I will return--to-morrow--another
day.\x94

As he rode back to Montaignac, Martial\x92s thoughts were busy.

\x93She really loves me,\x94 he thought; \x93that pallor, that weakness could
not be feigned. Poor girl! she is my wife, after all. The reasons that
influenced me in my rupture with her father exist no longer, and the
Marquis de Courtornieu may be regarded as dead.\x94

All the inhabitants of Sairmeuse were congregated on the public square
when Martial passed through the village. They had just heard of the
murder at the Borderie, and the abbe was now closeted with the justice
of the peace, relating the circumstances of the poisoning.

After a prolonged inquest the following verdict was rendered: \x93That a
man known as Chupin, a notoriously bad character, had entered the house
of Marie-Anne Lacheneur, and taken advantage of her absence to mingle
poison with her food.\x94

The report added that: \x93Said Chupin had been himself assassinated, soon
after his crime, by a certain Balstain, whose whereabouts were unknown.\x94

But this affair interested the community much less than the visits which
Martial was paying to Mme. Blanche.

It was soon rumored that the Marquis and the Marquise de Sairmeuse were
reconciled, and in a few weeks they left for Paris with the intention of
residing there permanently. A few days after their departure, the eldest
of the Chupins announced his determination of taking up his abode in the
same great city.

Some of his friends endeavored to dissuade him, assuring him that he
would certainly die of starvation.

\x93Nonsense!\x94 he replied, with singular assurance; \x93I, on the contrary,
have an idea that I shall not want for anything there.\x94



CHAPTER XLIX

Time gradually heals all wounds, and in less than a year it was
difficult to discern any trace of the fierce whirlwind of passion which
had devastated the peaceful valley of the Oiselle.

What remained to attest the reality of all these events, which, though
they were so recent, had already been relegated to the domain of the
legendary?

A charred ruin on the Reche.

A grave in the cemetery, upon which was inscribed:

\x93Marie-Anne Lacheneur, died at the age of twenty. Pray for her!\x94

Only a few, the oldest men and the politicians of the village, forgot
their solicitude in regard to the crops to remember this episode.

Sometimes, during the long winter evenings, when they had gathered
at the Boeuf Couronne, they laid down their greasy cards and gravely
discussed the events of the past years.

They never failed to remark that almost all the actors in that bloody
drama at Montaignac had, in common parlance, \x93come to a bad end.\x94

Victors and vanquished seemed to be pursued by the same inexorable
fatality.

Look at the names already upon the fatal list!

Lacheneur, beheaded.

Chanlouineau, shot.

Marie-Anne, poisoned.

Chupin, the traitor, assassinated.

The Marquis de Courtornieu lived, or rather survived, but death would
have seemed a mercy in comparison with such total annihilation of
intelligence. He had fallen below the level of the brute, which is, at
least, endowed with instinct. Since the departure of his daughter he had
been cared for by two servants, who did not allow him to give them much
trouble, and when they desired to go out they shut him up, not in his
chamber, but in the cellar, to prevent his ravings and shrieks from
being heard from without.

If people supposed for awhile that the Sairmeuse would escape the fate
of the others, they were mistaken. It was not long before the curse fell
upon them.

One fine morning in the month of December, the duke left the chateau to
take part in a wolf-hunt in the neighborhood.

At nightfall, his horse returned, panting, covered with foam, and
riderless.

What had become of its master?

A search was instituted at once, and all night long twenty men, bearing
torches, wandered through the woods, shouting and calling at the top of
their voices.

Five days went by, and the search for the missing man was almost
abandoned, when a shepherd lad, pale with fear, came to the chateau one
morning to tell them that he had discovered, at the base of a precipice,
the bloody and mangled body of the Duc de Sairmeuse.

It seemed strange that such an excellent rider should have met with such
a fate. There might have been some doubt as to its being an accident,
had it not been for the explanation given by the grooms.

\x93The duke was riding an exceedingly vicious beast,\x94 said these men. \x93She
was always taking fright and shying at everything.\x94

The following week Jean Lacheneur left the neighborhood.

The conduct of this singular man had caused much comment. When
Marie-Anne died, he at first refused his inheritance.

\x93I wish nothing that came to her through Chanlouineau!\x94 he said
everywhere, thus calumniating the memory of his sister as he had
calumniated her when alive.

Then, after a short absence, and without any apparent reason, he
suddenly changed his mind.

He not only accepted the property, but made all possible haste to obtain
possession of it. He made many excuses; and, if one might believe him,
he was not acting in his own interest, but merely conforming to the
wishes of his deceased sister; and he declared that not a penny would go
into his pockets.

This much is certain, as soon as he obtained legal possession of the
estate, he sold all the property, troubling himself but little in regard
to the price he received, provided the purchasers paid cash.

He reserved only the furniture of the sumptuously adorned chamber at the
Borderie. These articles he burned.

This strange act was the talk of the neighborhood.

\x93The poor young man has lost his reason!\x94 was the almost universal
opinion.

And those who doubted it, doubted it no longer when it became known
that Jean Lacheneur had formed an engagement with a company of strolling
players who stopped at Montaignac for a few days.

But the young man had not wanted for good advice and kind friends. M.
d\x92Escorval and the abbe had exerted all their eloquence to induce him to
return to Paris, and complete his studies; but in vain.

The necessity for concealment no longer existed, either in the case of
the baron or the priest.

Thanks to Martial de Sairmeuse they were now installed, the one in the
presbytery, the other at Escorval, as in days gone by.

Acquitted at his new trial, restored to the possession of his property,
reminded of his frightful fall only by a very slight lameness, the baron
would have deemed himself a fortunate man, had it not been for his great
anxiety on his son\x92s account.

Poor Maurice! his heart was broken by the sound of the clods of earth
falling upon Marie-Anne\x92s coffin; and his very life now seemed dependent
upon the hope of finding his child.

Assured of the powerful assistance of Abbe Midon, he had confessed all
to his father, and confided his secret to Corporal Bavois, who was an
honored guest at Escorval; and these devoted friends had promised him
all possible aid.

The task was very difficult, however, and certain resolutions on the
part of Maurice greatly diminished the chance of success.

Unlike Jean, he was determined to guard religiously the honor of the
dead; and he had made _his_ friends promise that Marie-Anne\x92s name
should not be mentioned in prosecuting the search.

\x93We shall succeed all the same,\x94 said the abbe, kindly; \x93with time and
patience any mystery can be solved.\x94

He divided the department into a certain number of districts; then one
of the little band went each day from house to house questioning
the inmates, but not without extreme caution, for fear of arousing
suspicion, for a peasant becomes intractable at once if his suspicions
are aroused.

But the weeks went by, and the quest was fruitless. Maurice was deeply
discouraged.

\x93My child died on coming into the world,\x94 he said, again and again.

But the abbe reassured him.

\x93I am morally certain that such was not the case,\x94 he replied. \x93I know,
by Marie-Anne\x92s absence, the date of her child\x92s birth. I saw her after
her recovery; she was comparatively gay and smiling. Draw your own
conclusions.\x94

\x93And yet there is not a nook or corner for miles around which we have
not explored.\x94

\x93True; but we must extend the circle of our investigations.\x94

The priest, now, was only striving to gain time, knowing full well that
it is the sovereign balm for all sorrows.

His confidence, which had been very great at first, had been sensibly
diminished by the responses of an old woman, who passed for one of the
greatest gossips in the community.

Adroitly interrogated, the worthy dame replied that she knew nothing of
such a child, but that there must be one in the neighborhood, since it
was the third time she had been questioned on the subject.

Intense as was his surprise, the abbe succeeded in hiding it.

He set the old gossip to talking, and after a two hours\x92 conversation,
he arrived at the conclusion that two persons besides Maurice were
searching for Marie-Anne\x92s child.

Why, with what aim, and who these persons could be the abbe was unable
to ascertain.

\x93Ah! rascals have their uses after all,\x94 he thought. \x93If we only had a
man like Chupin to set upon the track!\x94

But the old poacher was dead, and his eldest son--the one who knew
Blanche de Courtornieu\x92s secret--was in Paris.

Only the widow and the second son remained in Sairmeuse.

They had not, as yet, succeeded in discovering the twenty thousand
francs, but the fever for gold was burning in their veins, and they
persisted in their search. From morning until night the mother and son
toiled on, until the earth around their hut had been explored to the
depth of six feet.

A word dropped by a peasant one day put an end to these researches.

\x93Really, my boy,\x94 he said, addressing young Chupin, \x93I did not suppose
you were such a fool as to persist in hunting birds\x92 nests after the
birds have flown. Your brother, who is in Paris, can undoubtedly tell
you where the treasure was concealed.\x94

The younger Chupin uttered the fierce roar of a wild beast.

\x93Holy Virgin! you are right!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Wait until I get money
enough to take me to Paris, and we will see.\x94



CHAPTER L

Martial de Sairmeuse\x92s unexpected visit to the Chateau de Courtornieu
had alarmed Aunt Medea even more than Blanche.

In ten seconds, more ideas passed through her brain than had visited it
for ten years.

She saw the gendarmes at the chateau; she saw her niece arrested,
incarcerated in the Montaignac prison, and brought before the Court of
Assizes.

If this were all she had to fear! But suppose she, too, were
compromised, suspected of complicity, dragged before the judge, and even
accused of being the sole culprit!

Finding the suspense intolerable, she left her room; and, stealing on
tiptoe to the great drawing-room, she applied her ear to the door of the
little blue salon, in which Blanche and Martial were seated.

The conversation which she heard convinced her that her fears were
groundless.

She drew a long breath, as if a mighty burden had been lifted from her
breast. But a new idea, which was to grow, flourish, and bear fruit, had
just taken root in her brain.

When Martial left the room, Aunt Medea at once opened the communicating
door and entered the blue salon, thus avowing that she had been a
listener.

Twenty-four hours earlier she would not have dreamed of committing such
an enormity.

\x93Well, Blanche, we were frightened at nothing,\x94 she exclaimed.

Blanche did not reply.

She was deliberating, forcing herself to weigh the probable consequences
of all these events which had succeeded each other with such marvellous
rapidity.

\x93Perhaps the hour of my revenge is almost here,\x94 murmured Blanche, as if
communing with herself.

\x93What do you say?\x94 inquired Aunt Medea, with evident curiosity.

\x93I say, aunt, that in less than a month I shall be Marquise de Sairmeuse
in reality as well as in name. My husband will return to me, and
then--oh, then!\x94

\x93God grant it!\x94 said Aunt Medea, hypocritically.

In her secret heart she had but little faith in this prediction, and
whether it was realized or not mattered little to her.

\x93Still another proof that your jealousy led you astray; and that--that
what you did at the Borderie was unnecessary,\x94 she said, in that low
tone that accomplices always use in speaking of their crime.

Such had been the opinion of Blanche; but she now shook her head, and
gloomily replied:

\x93You are wrong; that which took place at the Borderie has restored my
husband to me. I understand it all, now. It is true that Marie-Anne was
not Martial\x92s mistress, but Martial loved her. He loved her, and the
rebuffs which he received only increased his passion. It was for her
sake that he abandoned me; and never, while she lived, would he have
thought of me. His emotion on seeing me was the remnant of the emotion
which had been awakened by another. His tenderness was only the
expression of his sorrow. Whatever happens, I shall have only her
leavings--what she has disdained!\x94 the young marquise added, bitterly;
and her eyes flashed, and she stamped her foot in ungovernable anger.
\x93And shall I regret what I have done?\x94 she exclaimed; \x93never! no,
never!\x94

From that moment, she was herself again, brave and determined.

But horrible fears assailed her when the inquest began.

Officials came from Montaignac charged with investigating the affair.
They examined a host of witnesses, and there was even talk of sending
to Paris for one of those detectives skilled in unravelling all the
mysteries of crime.

Aunt Medea was half crazed with terror; and her fear was so apparent
that it caused Blanche great anxiety.

\x93You will end by betraying us,\x94 she remarked, one evening.

\x93Ah! my terror is beyond my control.\x94

\x93If that is the case, do not leave your room.\x94

\x93It would be more prudent, certainly.\x94

\x93You can say that you are not well; your meals shall be served in your
own apartment.\x94

Aunt Medea\x92s face brightened. In her inmost heart she was enraptured. To
have her meals served in her own room, in her bed in the morning, and
on a little table by the fire in the evening, had long been the ambition
and the dream of the poor dependent. But how to accomplish it! Two or
three times, being a trifle indisposed, she had ventured to ask if her
breakfast might be brought to her room, but her request had been harshly
refused.

\x93If Aunt Medea is hungry, she will come down and take her place at the
table as usual,\x94 had been the response of Mme. Blanche.

To be treated in this way in a chateau where there were a dozen servants
standing about idle was hard indeed.

But now----

Every morning, in obedience to a formal order from Blanche, the cook
came up to receive Aunt Medea\x92s commands; she was permitted to dictate
the bill-of-fare each day, and to order the dishes that she preferred.

These new joys awakened many strange thoughts in her mind, and
dissipated much of the regret which she had felt for the crime at the
Borderie.

The inquest was the subject of all her conversation with her niece. They
had all the latest information in regard to the facts developed by the
investigation through the butler, who took a great interest in such
matters, and who had won the good-will of the agents from Montaignac, by
making them familiar with the contents of his wine-cellar.

Through him, Blanche and her aunt learned that suspicion pointed to the
deceased Chupin. Had he not been seen prowling around the Borderie on
the very evening that the crime was committed? The testimony of the
young peasant who had warned Jean Lacheneur seemed decisive.

The motive was evident; at least, everyone thought so. Twenty persons
had heard Chupin declare, with frightful oaths, that he should never be
tranquil in mind while a Lacheneur was left upon earth.

So that which might have ruined Blanche, saved her; and the death of the
old poacher seemed really providential.

Why should she suspect that Chupin had revealed her secret before his
death?

When the butler told her that the judges and the police agents had
returned to Montaignac, she had great difficulty in concealing her joy.

\x93There is no longer anything to fear,\x94 she said to Aunt Medea.

She had, indeed, escaped the justice of man. There remained the justice
of God.

A few weeks before, this thought of \x93the justice of God\x94 might, perhaps,
have brought a smile to the lips of Mme. Blanche.

She then regarded it as an imaginary evil, designed to hold timorous
spirits in check.

On the morning that followed her crime, she almost shrugged her
shoulders at the thought of Marie-Anne\x92s dying threats.

She remembered her promise, but she did not intend to fulfil it.

She had considered the matter, and she saw the terrible risk to which
she exposed herself if she endeavored to find the missing child.

\x93The father will be sure to discover it,\x94 she thought.

But she was to realize the power of her victim\x92s threats that same
evening.

Overcome with fatigue, she retired to her room at an early hour, and
instead of reading, as she was accustomed to do before retiring, she
extinguished her candle as soon as she had undressed, saying:

\x93I must sleep.\x94

But sleep had fled. Her crime was ever in her thoughts; it rose before
her in all its horror and atrocity. She knew that she was lying upon
her bed, at Courtornieu; and yet it seemed as if she was there in
Chanlouineau\x92s house, pouring out poison, then watching its effects,
concealed in the dressing-room.

She was struggling against these thoughts; she was exerting all her
strength of will to drive away these terrible memories, when she thought
she heard the key turn in the lock. She lifted her head from the pillow
with a start.

Then, by the uncertain light of her night-lamp, she thought she saw the
door open slowly and noiselessly. Marie-Anne entered--gliding in like
a phantom. She seated herself in an arm-chair near the bed. Great tears
were rolling down her cheeks, and she looked sadly, yet threateningly,
around her.

The murderess hid her face under the bed-covers; and her whole body
was bathed in an icy perspiration. For her, this was not a mere
apparition--it was a frightful reality.

But hers was not a nature to submit unresistingly to such an impression.
She shook off the stupor that was creeping over her, and tried to reason
with herself aloud, as if the sound of her voice would reassure her.

\x93I am dreaming!\x94 she said. \x93Do the dead return to life? Am I childish
enough to be frightened by phantoms born of my own imaginations?\x94

She said this, but the phantom did not disappear.

She shut her eyes, but still she saw it through her closed
eyelids--through the coverings which she had drawn up over her head, she
saw it still.

Not until daybreak did Mme. Blanche fall asleep.

And it was the same the next night, and the night following that, and
always and always; and the terrors of each night were augmented by the
terrors of the nights which had preceded it.

During the day, in the bright sunshine, she regained her courage, and
became sceptical again. Then she railed at herself.

\x93To be afraid of something that does not exist, is folly!\x94 she said,
vehemently. \x93To-night I will conquer my absurd weakness.\x94

But when evening came all her brave resolution vanished, and the same
fear seized her when night appeared with its _cortege_ of spectres.

It is true that Mme. Blanche attributed her tortures at night to the
disquietude she suffered during the day.

For the officials were at Sairmeuse then, and she trembled. A mere
nothing might divert suspicion from Chupin and direct it toward her.
What if some peasant had seen her with Chupin? What if some trifling
circumstance should furnish a clew which would lead straight to
Courtornieu?

\x93When the investigation is over, I shall forget,\x94 she thought.

It ended, but she did not forget.

Darwin has said:

\x93It is when their safety is assured that great criminals really feel
remorse.\x94

Mme. Blanche might have vouched for the truth of this assertion, made by
the most profound thinker and closest observer of the age.

And yet, the agony she was enduring did not make her abandon, for a
single moment, the plan she had conceived on the day of Martial\x92s visit.

She played her part so well, that, deeply moved, almost repentant, he
returned five or six times, and at last, one day, he besought her to
allow him to remain.

But even the joy of this triumph did not restore her peace of mind.

Between her and her husband rose that dread apparition; and Marie-Anne\x92s
distorted features were ever before her. She knew only too well that
this heart-broken man had no love to give her, and that she would never
have the slightest influence over him. And to crown all, to her already
intolerable sufferings was added another, more poignant than all the
rest.

Speaking one evening of Marie-Anne\x92s death, Martial forgot himself,
and spoke of his oath of vengeance. He deeply regretted that Chupin was
dead, he remarked, for he should have experienced an intense delight in
making the wretch who murdered her _die_ a lingering death in the midst
of the most frightful tortures.

He spoke with extreme violence and in a voice vibrant with his still
powerful passion.

And Blanche, in terror, asked herself what would be her fate if her
husband ever discovered that she was the culprit--and he might discover
it.

She now began to regret that she had not kept the promise she had made
to her victim; and she resolved to commence the search for Marie-Anne\x92s
child.

To do this effectually it was necessary for her to be in a large
city--Paris, for example--where she could procure discreet and skilful
agents.

It was necessary to persuade Martial to remove to the capital. Aided by
the Duc de Sairmeuse, she did not find this a very difficult task; and
one morning, Mme. Blanche, with a radiant face, announced to Aunt Medea:

\x93Aunt, we leave just one week from to-day.\x94



CHAPTER LI

Beset by a thousand fears and anxieties, Blanche had failed to notice
that Aunt Medea was no longer the same.

The change, it is true, had been gradual; it had not struck the
servants, but it was none the less positive and real, and it betrayed
itself in numberless trifles.

For example, though the poor dependent still retained her humble,
resigned manner; she had lost, little by little, the servile fear that
had showed itself in her every movement. She no longer trembled when
anyone addressed her, and there was occasionally a ring of independence
in her voice.

If visitors were present, she no longer kept herself modestly in
the background, but drew forward her chair and took part in the
conversation. At table, she allowed her preferences and her dislikes to
appear. On two or three occasions she had ventured to differ from her
niece in opinion, and had even been so bold as to question the propriety
of some of her orders.

Once Mme. Blanche, on going out, asked Aunt Medea to accompany her; but
the latter declared she had a cold, and remained at home.

And, on the following Sunday, although Blanche did not wish to attend
vespers, Aunt Medea declared her intention of going; and as it rained,
she requested the coachman to harness the horses to the carriage, which
was done.

All this was nothing, in appearance; in reality, it was monstrous,
amazing. It was quite plain that the humble relative was becoming bold,
even audacious, in her demands.

As this departure, which her niece had just announced so gayly, had
never been discussed before her, she was greatly surprised.

\x93What! you are going away,\x94 she repeated; \x93you are leaving Courtornieu?\x94

\x93And without regret.\x94

\x93To go where, pray?\x94

\x93To Paris. We shall reside there; that is decided. That is the place for
my husband. His name, his fortune, his talents, the favor of the King,
assure him a high position there. He will repurchase the Hotel de
Sairmeuse, and furnish it magnificently. We shall have a princely
establishment.\x94

All the torments of envy were visible upon Aunt Medea\x92s countenance.

\x93\x91And what is to become of me?\x94 she asked, in plaintive tones.

\x93You, aunt! You will remain here; you will be mistress of the chateau. A
trustworthy person must remain to watch over my poor father. You will be
happy and contented here, I hope.\x94

But no; Aunt Medea did not seem satisfied.

\x93I shall never have courage to stay all alone in this great chateau,\x94
 she whined.

\x93You foolish woman! will you not have the servants, the gardeners, and
the concierge to protect you?\x94

\x93That makes no difference. I am afraid of insane people. When the
marquis began to rave and howl this evening, I felt as if I should go
mad myself.\x94

Blanche shrugged her shoulders.

\x93What _do_ you wish, then?\x94 she asked, in a still more sarcastic manner.

\x93I thought--I wondered--if you would not take me with you.\x94

\x93To Paris! You are crazy, I do believe. What would you do there?\x94

\x93Blanche, I entreat you, I beseech you, to do so!\x94

\x93Impossible, aunt; impossible!\x94

Aunt Medea seemed to be in despair.

\x93And what if I should tell you that I cannot remain here--that I dare
not--that I should die!\x94

A flush of impatience dyed the cheek of Mme. Blanche.

\x93You weary me beyond endurance,\x94 she said, rudely.

And with a gesture that increased the harshness of her words, she added:

\x93If Courtornieu displeases you so much, there is nothing to prevent you
from seeking a home more to your taste. You are free and of age.\x94

Aunt Medea turned very pale, and she bit her lips until the blood came.

\x93That is to say,\x94 she said, at last, \x93you permit me to take my choice
between dying of fear at Courtornieu and ending my days in a hospital.
Thanks, my niece, thanks. That is like you. I expected nothing less of
you. Thanks!\x94

She raised her head, and a dangerous light gleamed in her eyes. There
was the hiss of a serpent in the voice in which she continued:

\x93Very well! this decides me. I entreated you, and you brutally refused
to heed my prayer, now I command and I say: \x91I will go!\x92 Yes, I intend
to go with you to Paris--and I shall go. Ah! it surprises you to hear
poor, meek, much-abused Aunt Medea speak in this way. I have endured in
silence for a long time, but I have rebelled at last. My life in this
house has been a hell. It is true that you have given me shelter--that
you have fed and lodged me; but you have taken my entire life in
exchange. What servant ever endured what I have endured? Have you ever
treated one of your maids as you have treated me, your own flesh and
blood? And I have had no wages; on the contrary, I was expected to
be grateful since I lived by your tolerance. Ah! you have made me pay
dearly for the crime of being poor. How you have insulted me--humiliated
me--trampled me under foot!\x94

She paused.

The bitter rancor which had been accumulating for years fairly choked
her; but after a moment she resumed, in a tone of intense irony:

\x93You ask me what would I do in Paris? I, too, would enjoy myself. What
will you do, yourself? You will go to Court, to balls, and to the play,
will you not? Very well, I will accompany you. I will attend these
fetes. I will have handsome toilets, I--poor Aunt Medea--who have never
seen myself in anything but shabby black woollen dresses. Have you ever
thought of giving me the pleasure of possessing a handsome dress? Yes,
twice a year, perhaps, you have given me a black silk, recommending me
to take good care of it. But it was not for my sake that you went to
this expense. It was for your own sake; and in order that your poor
relation should do honor to your generosity. You dressed me in it, as
you sew gold lace upon the clothing of your lackeys, through vanity.
And I endured all this; I made myself insignificant and humble; buffeted
upon one cheek, I offered the other. I must live--I must have food. And
you, Blanche, how often, to make me subservient to your will, have
you said to me: \x91You will do thus-and-so, if you desire to remain at
Courtornieu?\x92 And I obeyed--I was forced to obey, since I knew not where
to go. Ah! you have abused me in every way; but now my turn has come!\x94

Blanche was so amazed that she could not articulate a syllable. At last,
in a scarcely audible voice, she faltered:

\x93I do not understand you, aunt; I do not understand you.\x94

The poor dependent shrugged her shoulders, as her niece had done a few
moments before.

\x93In that case,\x94 said she, slowly, \x93I may as well tell you that since you
have, against my will, made me your accomplice, we must share everything
in common. I share the danger; I will share the pleasure. What if all
should be discovered? Do you ever think of that? Yes; and that is why
you are seeking diversion. Very well! I also desire diversion. I shall
go to Paris with you.\x94

By a terrible effort Blanche had succeeded in regaining her
self-possession, in some measure at least.

\x93And if I should say no?\x94 she responded, coldly.

\x93But you will not say no.\x94

\x93And why, if you please?\x94

\x93Because----\x94

\x93Will you go to the authorities and denounce me?\x94

Aunt Medea shook her head.

\x93I am not such a fool,\x94 she retorted. \x93I should only compromise myself.
No, I shall not do that; but I might, perhaps, tell your husband what
happened at the Borderie.\x94

Blanche shuddered. No threat was capable of moving her like that.

\x93You shall accompany us, aunt,\x94 said she; \x93I promise it.\x94

Then she added, gently:

\x93But it is unnecessary to threaten me. You have been cruel, aunt, and at
the same time, unjust. If you have been unhappy in our house, you alone
are to blame. Why have you said nothing? I attributed your complaisance
to your affection for me. How was I to know that a woman as quiet
and modest as yourself longed for fine apparel. Confess that it was
impossible. Had I known--But rest easy, aunt; I will atone for my
neglect.\x94

And as Aunt Medea, having obtained all she desired, stammered an excuse:

\x93Nonsense!\x94 Blanche exclaimed; \x93let us forget this foolish quarrel. You
forgive me, do you not?\x94

And the two ladies embraced each other with the greatest effusion, like
two friends united after a misunderstanding. But Aunt Medea was as far
from being deceived by this mock reconciliation as the clearsighted
Blanche.

\x93It will be best for me to keep on the _qui vive_,\x94 thought the humble
relative. \x93God only knows with what intense joy my dear niece would send
me to join Marie-Anne.\x94

Perhaps a similar thought flitted through the mind of Mme. Blanche.

She felt as a convict might feel on seeing his most execrated enemy,
perhaps the man who had betrayed him, fastened to the other end of his
chain.

\x93I am bound now and forever to this dangerous and perfidious creature,\x94
 she thought. \x93I am no longer my own mistress; I belong to her. When she
commands, I must obey. I must be the slave of her every caprice--and she
has forty years of humiliation and servitude to avenge.\x94

The prospect of such a life made her tremble; and she racked her brain
to discover some way of freeing herself from her detested companion.

Would it be possible to inspire Aunt Medea with a desire to live
independently in her own house, served by her own servants?

Might she succeed in persuading this silly old woman, who still longed
for finery and ball-dresses, to marry? A handsome marriage-portion will
always attract a husband.

But, in either case, Blanche would require money--a large sum of money,
for whose use she would be accountable to no one.

This conviction made her resolve to take possession of about two hundred
and fifty thousand francs, in bank-notes and coin, belonging to her
father.

This sum represented the savings of the Marquis de Courtornieu during
the past three years. No one knew he had laid it aside, except his
daughter; and now that he had lost his reason, Blanche, who knew where
the hoard was concealed, could take it for her own use without the
slightest danger.

\x93With this,\x94 she thought, \x93I can at any moment enrich Aunt Medea without
having recourse to Martial.\x94

After this little scene there was a constant interchange of delicate
attentions and touching devotion between the two ladies. It was \x93my
dearest little aunt,\x94 and \x93my dearly beloved niece,\x94 from morning until
night; and the gossips of the neighborhood, who had often commented upon
the haughty disdain which Mme. Blanche displayed in her treatment of her
relative, would have found abundant food for comment had they known that
Aunt Medea was protected from the possibility of cold by a mantle lined
with costly fur, exactly like the marquise\x92s own, and that she made
the journey, not in the large Berlin, with the servants, but in the
post-chaise with the Marquis and Marquise de Sairmeuse.

The change was so marked that even Martial remarked it, and as soon
as he found himself alone with his wife, he exclaimed, in a tone of
good-natured raillery:

\x93What is the meaning of all this devotion? We shall finish by encasing
this precious aunt in cotton, shall we not?\x94

Blanche trembled, and flushed a little.

\x93I love good Aunt Medea so much!\x94 said she. \x93I never can forget all the
affection and devotion she lavished upon me when I was so unhappy.\x94

It was such a plausible explanation that Martial took no further notice
of the matter, for his mind just then was fully occupied.

The agent, whom he had sent to Paris in advance, to purchase, if
possible, the Hotel de Sairmeuse, had written him to make all possible
haste, as there was some difficulty about concluding the bargain.

\x93Plague take the fellow!\x94 said the marquis, angrily, on receiving this
news. \x93He is quite stupid enough to let this opportunity, for which we
have been waiting ten years, slip through his fingers. I shall find no
pleasure in Paris if I cannot own our old residence.\x94

He was so impatient to reach Paris that, on the second day of their
journey, he declared if he were alone he would travel all night.

\x93Do so now,\x94 said Blanche, graciously; \x93I do not feel fatigued in the
least, and a night of travel does not appall me.\x94

They did travel all night, and the next day, about nine o\x92clock, they
alighted at the Hotel Meurice.

Martial scarcely took time to eat his breakfast.

\x93I must go and see my agent at once,\x94 he said, as he hurried off. \x93I
will soon be back.\x94

He reappeared in about two hours, pleased and radiant.

\x93My agent was a simpleton,\x94 he exclaimed. \x93He was afraid to write me
that a man, upon whom the conclusion of the sale depends, demands a
bonus of fifty thousand francs. He shall have it in welcome.\x94

Then, in a tone of gallantry, which he always used in addressing his
wife, he said:

\x93It only remains for me to sign the paper; but I will not do so unless
the house suits you. If you are not too tired, I would like you to visit
it at once. Time presses, and we have many competitors.\x94

This visit was, of course, one of pure form; but Mme. Blanche would have
been hard to please if she had not been satisfied with this mansion,
one of the most magnificent in Paris, with an entrance on the Rue de
Grenelle, and large gardens shaded with superb trees, and extending to
the Rue de Varennes.

Unfortunately, this superb dwelling had not been occupied for several
years, and required many repairs.

\x93It will take at least six months to restore it,\x94 said Martial; \x93perhaps
more. It is true that they might in three months, perhaps, render a
portion of it very comfortable.\x94

\x93It would be living in one\x92s own house, at least,\x94 approved Blanche,
divining her husband\x92s wishes.

\x93Ah! then you agree with me! In that case, you may rest assured that I
will expedite matters as much as possible.\x94

In spite, or rather by reason of his immense fortune, the Marquis de
Sairmeuse knew that a person is never so well, nor so quickly served, as
when he serves himself, so he resolved to take the matter into his
own hands. He conferred with architects, interviewed contractors, and
hurried on the workmen.

As soon as he was up in the morning he started out without waiting for
breakfast, and seldom returned until dinner.

Although Blanche was compelled to pass most of her time within doors,
on account of the bad weather, she was not inclined to complain. Her
journey, the unaccustomed sights and sounds of Paris, the novelty of
life in a hotel, all combined to distract her thoughts from herself.
She forgot her fears; a sort of haze enveloped the terrible scene at the
Borderie; the clamors of conscience sank into faint whispers.

The past seemed fading away, and she was beginning to entertain hopes of
a new and better life, when one day a servant entered, and said:

\x93There is a man below who wishes to speak with Madame.\x94



CHAPTER LII

Half reclining upon a sofa, Mme. Blanche was listening to a new book
which Aunt Medea was reading aloud, and she did not even raise her head
as the servant delivered his message.

\x93A man?\x94 she asked, carelessly; \x93what man?\x94

She was expecting no one; it must be one of the laborers employed by
Martial.

\x93I cannot inform Madame,\x94 replied the servant. \x93He is quite a young man;
is dressed like a peasant, and is perhaps, seeking a place.\x94

\x93It is probably the marquis whom he desires to see.\x94

\x93Madame will excuse me, but he said particularly that he desired to
speak to her.\x94

\x93Ask his name and his business, then. Go on, aunt,\x94 she added; \x93we have
been interrupted in the most interesting portion.\x94

But Aunt Medea had not time to finish the page when the servant
reappeared.

\x93The man says Madame will understand his business when she hears his
name.\x94

\x93And his name?\x94

\x93Chupin.\x94

It was as if a bomb-shell had exploded in the room.

Aunt Medea, with a shriek, dropped her book, and sank back, half
fainting, in her chair.

Blanche sprang up with a face as colorless as her white cashmere
_peignoir_, her eyes troubled, her lips trembling.

\x93Chupin!\x94 she repeated, as if she hoped the servant would tell her she
had not understood him correctly; \x93Chupin!\x94

Then angrily:

\x93Tell this man that I will not see him, I will not see him, do you
hear?\x94

But before the servant had time to bow respectfully and retire, the
young marquise changed her mind.

\x93One moment,\x94 said she; \x93on reflection I think I will see him. Bring him
up.\x94

The servant withdrew, and the two ladies looked at each other in silent
consternation.

\x93It must be one of Chupin\x92s sons,\x94 faltered Blanche, at last.

\x93Undoubtedly; but what does he desire?\x94

\x93Money, probably.\x94 Aunt Medea lifted her eyes to heaven.

\x93God grant that he knows nothing of your meetings with his father!
Blessed Jesus! what if he should know.\x94

\x93You are not going to despair in advance! We shall know all in a few
moments. Pray be calm. Turn your back to us; look out into the street;
do not let him see your face. But why is he so long in coming?\x94

Blanche was not deceived. It was Chupin\x92s eldest son; the one to whom
the dying poacher had confided his secret.

Since his arrival in Paris he had been running the streets from morning
until evening, inquiring everywhere and of everybody the address of the
Marquis de Sairmeuse. At last he discovered it; and he lost no time in
presenting himself at the Hotel Meurice.

He was now awaiting the result of his application at the entrance of the
hotel, where he stood whistling, with his hands in his pockets, when the
servant returned, saying:

\x93She consents to see you; follow me.\x94

Chupin obeyed; but the servant, greatly astonished, and on fire with
curiosity, loitered by the way in the hope of obtaining some explanation
from this country youth.

\x93I do not say it to flatter you, my boy,\x94 he remarked, \x93but your name
produced a great effect upon madame.\x94

The prudent peasant carefully concealed the joy he felt on receiving
this information.

\x93How does it happen that she knows you?\x94 pursued the servant. \x93Are you
both from the same place?\x94

\x93I am her foster-brother.\x94

The servant did not believe a word of this response; but they had
reached the apartment of the marquise, he opened the door and ushered
Chupin into the room.

The peasant had prepared a little story in advance, but he was so
dazzled by the magnificence around him that he stood motionless with
staring eyes and gaping mouth. His wonder was increased by a large
mirror opposite the door, in which he could survey himself from head
to foot, and by the beautiful flowers on the carpet, which he feared to
crush beneath his heavy shoes.

After a moment, Mme. Blanche decided to break the silence.

\x93What do you wish?\x94 she demanded.

With many circumlocutions Chupin explained that he had been obliged to
leave Sairmeuse on account of the numerous enemies he had there, that
he had been unable to find his father\x92s hidden treasure, and that he was
consequently without resources.

\x93Enough!\x94 interrupted Mme. Blanche. Then in a manner not in the least
friendly, she continued: \x93I do not understand why you should apply to
me. You and all the rest of your family have anything but an enviable
reputation in Sairmeuse; still, as you are from that part of the
country, I am willing to aid you a little on condition that you do not
apply to me again.\x94

Chupin listened to this homily with a half-cringing, half-impudent air;
when it was finished he lifted his head, and said, proudly:

\x93I do not ask for alms.\x94

\x93What do you ask then?\x94

\x93My dues.\x94

The heart of Mme. Blanche sank, and yet she had courage to cast a glance
of disdain upon the speaker, and said:

\x93Ah! do I owe you anything?\x94

\x93You owe me nothing personally, Madame; but you owe a heavy debt to my
deceased father. In whose service did he perish? Poor old man! he loved
you devotedly. His last words were of you. \x91A terrible thing has just
happened at the Borderie, my boy,\x92 said he. \x91The young marquise hated
Marie-Anne, and she has poisoned her. Had it not been for me she would
have been lost. I am about to die; let the whole blame rest upon me;
it will not hurt me, and it will save the young lady. And afterward she
will reward you; and as long as you keep the secret you will want for
nothing.\x92\x94

Great as was his impudence, he paused, amazed by the perfectly composed
face of the listener.

In the presence of such wonderful dissimulation he almost doubted the
truth of his father\x92s story.

The courage and heroism displayed by the marquise were really wonderful.
She felt if she yielded once, she would forever be at the mercy of this
wretch, as she was already at the mercy of Aunt Medea.

\x93In other words,\x94 said she, calmly, \x93you accuse me of the murder of
Mademoiselle Lacheneur; and you threaten to denounce me if I do not
yield to your demands.\x94

Chupin nodded his head in acquiescence.

\x93Very well!\x94 said the marquise; \x93since this is the case--go!\x94

It seemed, indeed, as if she would, by her audacity, win this dangerous
game upon which her future peace depended. Chupin, greatly abashed, was
standing there undecided what course to pursue when Aunt Medea, who was
listening by the window, turned in affright, crying:

\x93Blanche! your husband--Martial! He is coming!\x94

The game was lost. Blanche saw her husband entering, finding Chupin,
conversing with him, and discovering all!

Her brain whirled; she yielded.

She hastily thrust her purse in Chupin\x92s hand and dragged him through an
inner door and to the servants\x92 staircase.

\x93Take this,\x94 she said, in a hoarse whisper. \x93I will see you again. And
not a word--not a word to my husband, remember!\x94

She had been wise to yield in time. When she re-entered the salon, she
found Martial there.

His head was bowed upon his breast; he held an open letter in his hand.

He looked up when his wife entered the room, and she saw a tear in his
eye.

\x93What has happened?\x94 she faltered.

Martial did not remark her emotion.

\x93My father is dead, Blanche,\x94 he replied.

\x93The Duc de Sairmeuse! My God! how did it happen?\x94

\x93He was thrown from his horse, in the forest, near the Sanguille rocks.\x94

\x93Ah! it was there where my poor father was nearly murdered.\x94

\x93Yes, it is the very place.\x94

There was a moment\x92s silence.

Martial\x92s affection for his father had not been very deep, and he
was well aware that his father had but little love for him. He was
astonished at the bitter grief he felt on hearing of his death.

\x93From this letter which was forwarded by a messenger from Sairmeuse,\x94 he
continued, \x93I judge that everybody believes it to have been an accident;
but I--I----\x94

\x93Well?\x94

\x93I believe he was murdered.\x94

An exclamation of horror escaped Aunt Medea, and Blanche turned pale.

\x93Murdered!\x94 she whispered.

\x93Yes, Blanche; and I could name the murderer. Oh! I am not deceived. The
murderer of my father is the same man who attempted to assassinate the
Marquis de Courtornieu----\x94

\x93Jean Lacheneur!\x94

Martial gravely bowed his head. It was his only reply.

\x93And you will not denounce him? You will not demand justice?\x94

Martial\x92s face grew more and more gloomy.

\x93What good would it do?\x94 he replied. \x93I have no material proofs to give,
and justice demands incontestable evidence.\x94

Then, as if communing with his own thoughts, rather than addressing his
wife, he said, despondently:

\x93The Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu have reaped
what they have sown. The blood of murdered innocence always calls for
vengeance. Sooner or later, the guilty must expiate their crimes.\x94

Blanche shuddered. Each word found an echo in her own soul. Had
he intended his words for her, he would not have expressed himself
differently.

\x93Martial,\x94 said she, trying to arouse him from his gloomy revery,
\x93Martial.\x94

He did not seem to hear her, and, in the same tone, he continued:

\x93These Lacheneurs were happy and honored before our arrival at
Sairmeuse. Their conduct was above all praise; their probity amounted
to heroism. We might have made them our faithful and devoted friends. It
was our duty, as well as in our interests, to have done so. We did not
understand this; we humiliated, ruined, exasperated them. It was a fault
for which we must atone. Who knows but, in Jean Lacheneur\x92s place, I
should have done what he has done?\x94

He was silent for a moment; then, with one of those sudden inspirations
that sometimes enable one almost to read the future, he resumed:

\x93I know Jean Lacheneur. I alone can fathom his hatred, and I know that
he lives only in the hope of vengeance. It is true that we are very high
and he is very low, but that matters little. We have everything to fear.
Our millions form a rampart around us, but he will know how to open a
breach. And no precautions will save us. At the very moment when we feel
ourselves secure, he will be ready to strike. What he will attempt,
I know not; but his will be a terrible revenge. Remember my words,
Blanche, if ruin ever threatens our house, it will be Jean Lacheneur\x92s
work.\x94

Aunt Medea and her niece were too horror-stricken to articulate a
word, and for five minutes no sound broke the stillness save Martial\x92s
monotonous tread, as he paced up and down the room.

At last he paused before his wife.

\x93I have just ordered post-horses. You will excuse me for leaving you
here alone. I must go to Sairmeuse at once. I shall not be absent more
than a week.\x94

He departed from Paris a few hours later, and Blanche was left a prey to
the most intolerable anxiety. She suffered more now than during the days
that immediately followed her crime. It was not against phantoms she was
obliged to protect herself now; Chupin existed, and his voice, even if
it were not as terrible as the voice of conscience, might make itself
heard at any moment.

If she had known where to find him, she would have gone to him, and
endeavored, by the payment of a large sum of money, to persuade him to
leave France.

But Chupin had left the hotel without giving her his address.

The gloomy apprehension expressed by Martial increased the fears of the
young marquise. The mere sound of the name Lacheneur made her shrink
with terror. She could not rid herself of the idea that Jean Lacheneur
suspected her guilt, and that he was watching her.

Her wish to find Marie-Anne\x92s infant was stronger than ever.

It seemed to her that the child might be a protection to her some day.
But where could she find an agent in whom she could confide?

At last she remembered that she had heard her father speak of a
detective by the name of Chelteux, an exceedingly shrewd fellow, capable
of anything, even honesty if he were well paid.

The man was really a miserable wretch, one of Fouche\x92s vilest
instruments, who had served and betrayed all parties, and who, at
last, had been convicted of perjury, but had somehow managed to escape
punishment.

After his dismissal from the police-force, Chelteux founded a bureau of
private information.

After several inquiries, Mme. Blanche discovered that he lived in the
Place Dauphine; and she determined to take advantage of her husband\x92s
absence to pay the detective a visit.

One morning she donned her simplest dress, and, accompanied by Aunt
Medea, repaired to the house of Chelteux.

He was then, about thirty-four years of age, a man of medium height, of
inoffensive mien, and who affected an unvarying good-humor.

He invited his clients into a nicely furnished drawing-room, and Mme.
Blanche at once began telling him that she was married, and living in
the Rue Saint-Denis, that one of her sisters, who had lately died,
had been guilty of an indiscretion, and that she was ready to make any
sacrifice to find this sister\x92s child, etc., etc. A long story, which
she had prepared in advance, and which sounded very plausible.

Chelteux did not believe a word of it, however; for, as soon as it was
ended, he tapped her familiarly on the shoulder, and said:

\x93In short, my dear, we have had our little escapades before our
marriage.\x94

She shrank back as if from some venomous reptile.

To be treated thus! she--a Courtornieu--Duchesse de Sairmeuse!

\x93I think you are laboring under a wrong impression,\x94 she said,
haughtily.

He made haste to apologize; but while listening to further details given
him by the young lady, he thought:

\x93What an eye! what a voice!--they are not suited to a denizen of the
Saint-Denis!\x94

His suspicions were confirmed by the reward of twenty thousand francs,
which Mme. Blanche imprudently promised him in case of success, and by
the five hundred francs which she paid in advance.

\x93And where shall I have the honor of addressing my communications to
you, Madame?\x94 he inquired.

\x93Nowhere,\x94 replied the young lady. \x93I shall be passing here from time to
time, and I will call.\x94

When they left the house, Chelteux followed them.

\x93For once,\x94 he thought, \x93I believe that fortune smiles upon me.\x94

To discover the name and rank of his new clients was but child\x92s play to
Fouche\x92s former pupil.

His task was all the easier since they had no suspicion whatever of his
designs. Mme. Blanche, who had heard his powers of discernment so highly
praised, was confident of success.

All the way back to the hotel she was congratulating herself upon the
step she had taken.

\x93In less than a month,\x94 she said to Aunt Medea, \x93we shall have the
child; and it will be a protection to us.\x94

But the following week she realized the extent of her imprudence. On
visiting Chelteux again, she was received with such marks of respect
that she saw at once she was known.

She made an attempt to deceive him, but the detective checked her.

\x93First of all,\x94 he said, with a good-humored smile, \x93I ascertain the
identity of the persons who honor me with their confidence. It is a
proof of my ability, which I give, gratis. But Madame need have no
fears. I am discreet by nature and by profession. Many ladies of the
highest ranks are in the position of Madame la Duchesse!\x94

So Chelteux still believed that the Duchesse de Sairmeuse was searching
for her own child.

She did not try to convince him to the contrary. It was better that he
should believe this than suspect the truth.

The condition of Mme. Blanche was now truly pitiable. She found herself
entangled in a net, and each movement far from freeing her, tightened
the meshes around her.

Three persons knew the secret that threatened her life and honor. Under
these circumstances, how could she hope to keep that secret inviolate?
She was, moreover, at the mercy of three unscrupulous masters; and
before a word, or a gesture, or a look from them, her haughty spirit was
compelled to bow in meek subservience.

And her time was no longer at her own disposal. Martial had returned;
and they had taken up their abode at the Hotel de Sairmeuse.

The young duchess was now compelled to live under the scrutiny of fifty
servants--of fifty enemies, more or less, interested in watching her, in
criticising her every act, and in discovering her inmost thoughts.

Aunt Medea, it is true, was of great assistance to her. Blanche
purchased a dress for her, whenever she purchased one for herself, took
her about with her on all occasions, and the humble relative expressed
her satisfaction in the most enthusiastic terms, and declared her
willingness to do anything for her benefactress.

Nor did Chelteux give Mme. Blanche much more annoyance. Every three
months he presented a memorandum of the expenses of investigations,
which usually amounted to about ten thousand francs; and so long as she
paid him it was plain that he would be silent.

He had given her to understand, however, that he should expect an
annuity of twenty-four thousand francs; and once, when Mme. Blanche
remarked that he must abandon the search, if nothing had been discovered
at the end of two years:

\x93Never,\x94 he replied: \x93I shall continue the search as long as I live.\x94
 But Chupin, unfortunately, remained; and he was a constant terror.

She had been compelled to give him twenty thousand francs, to begin
with.

He declared that his younger brother had come to Paris in pursuit of
him, accusing him of having stolen their father\x92s hoard, and demanding
his share with his dagger in his hand.

There had been a battle, and it was with a head bound up in a
blood-stained linen, that Chupin made his appearance before Mme.
Blanche.

\x93Give me the sum that the old man buried, and I will allow my brother to
think that I had stolen it. It is not very pleasant to be regarded as a
thief, when one is an honest man, but I will bear it for your sake. If
you refuse, I shall be compelled to tell him where I have obtained my
money and how.\x94

If he possessed all the vices, depravity, and coldblooded perversity of
his father, this wretch had inherited neither his intelligence nor his
_finesse_.

Instead of taking the precautions which his interest required, he seemed
to find a brutal pleasure in compromising the duchess.

He was a constant visitor at the Hotel de Sairmeuse. He came and went
at all hours, morning, noon, and night, without troubling himself in the
least about Martial.

And the servants were amazed to see their haughty mistress
unhesitatingly leave everything at the call of this suspicious-looking
character, who smelled _so_ strongly of tobacco and vile brandy.

One evening, while a grand entertainment was in progress at the Hotel de
Sairmeuse, he made his appearance, half drunk, and imperiously ordered
the servants to go and tell Mme. Blanche that he was there, and that he
was waiting for her.

She hastened to him in her magnificent evening-dress, her face white
with rage and shame beneath her tiara of diamonds. And when, in her
exasperation, she refused to give the wretch what he demanded:

\x93That is to say, I am to starve while you are revelling here!\x94 he
exclaimed. \x93I am not such a fool. Give me money, and instantly, or I
will tell all I know here and now!\x94

What could she do? She was obliged to yield, as she had always done
before.

And yet he grew more and more insatiable every day. Money remained in
his pockets no longer than water remains in a sieve. But he did not
think of elevating his vices to the proportions of the fortune which he
squandered. He did not even provide himself with decent clothing; from
his appearance one would have supposed him a beggar, and his companions
were the vilest and most degraded of beings.

One night he was arrested in a low den, and the police, surprised at
seeing so much gold in the possession of such a beggarly looking wretch,
accused him of being a thief. He mentioned the name of the Duchesse de
Sairmeuse.

An inspector of the police presented himself at the Hotel de Sairmeuse
the following morning. Martial, fortunately, was in Vienna at the time.

And Mme. Blanche was forced to undergo the terrible humiliation of
confessing that she had given a large sum of money to this man, whose
family she had known, and who, she added, had once rendered her an
important service.

Sometimes her tormentor changed his tactics.

For example, he declared that he disliked to come to the Hotel de
Sairmeuse, that the servants treated him as if he were a mendicant, that
after this he would write.

And in a day or two there would come a letter bidding her bring such a
sum, to such a place, at such an hour.

And the proud duchess was always punctual at the rendezvous.

There was constantly some new invention, as if he found an intense
delight in proving his power and in abusing it.

He had met, Heaven knows where! a certain Aspasie Clapard, to whom he
took a violent fancy, and although she was much older than himself, he
wished to marry her. Mme. Blanche paid for the wedding-feast.

Again he announced his desire of establishing himself in business,
having resolved, he said, to live by his own exertions. He purchased the
stock of a wine merchant, which the duchess paid for, and which he drank
in no time.

His wife gave birth to a child, and Mme. de Sairmeuse must pay for the
baptism as she had paid for the wedding, only too happy that Chupin
did not require her to stand as godmother to little Polyte. He had
entertained this idea at first.

On two occasions Mme. Blanche accompanied her husband to Vienna and to
London, whither he went charged with important diplomatic missions. She
remained three years in foreign lands.

Each week during all that time she received one letter, at least, from
Chupin.

Ah! many a time she envied the lot of her victim! What was Marie-Anne\x92s
death compared with the life she led?

Her sufferings were measured by years, Marie-Anne\x92s by minutes; and she
said to herself, again and again, that the torture of poison could not
be as intolerable as her agony.



CHAPTER LIII

How was it that Martial had failed to discover or to suspect this state
of affairs?

A moment\x92s reflection will explain this fact which is so extraordinary
in appearance, so natural in reality.

The head of a family, whether he dwells in an attic or in a palace, is
always the last to know what is going on in his home. What everybody
else knows he does not even suspect. The master often sleeps while his
house is on fire. Some terrible catastrophe--an explosion--is necessary
to arouse him from his fancied security.

The life that Martial led was likely to prevent him from arriving at the
truth. He was a stranger to his wife. His manner toward her was perfect,
full of deference and chivalrous courtesy; but they had nothing in
common except a name and certain interests.

Each lived their own life. They met only at dinner, or at the
entertainments which they gave and which were considered the most
brilliant in Paris society.

The duchess had her own apartments, her servants, her carriages, her
horses, her own table.

At twenty-five, Martial, the last descendant of the great house of
Sairmeuse--a man upon whom destiny had apparently lavished every
blessing--the possessor of youth, unbounded wealth, and a brilliant
intellect, succumbed beneath the burden of an incurable despondency and
_ennui_.

The death of Marie-Anne had destroyed all his hopes of happiness; and
realizing the emptiness of his life, he did his best to fill the void
with bustle and excitement. He threw himself headlong into politics,
striving to find in power and in satisfied ambition some relief from his
despondency.

It is only just to say that Mme. Blanche had remained superior to
circumstances; and that she had played the role of a happy, contented
woman with consummate skill.

Her frightful sufferings and anxiety never marred the haughty serenity
of her face. She soon won a place as one of the queens of Parisian
society; and plunged into dissipation with a sort of frenzy. Was she
endeavoring to divert her mind? Did she hope to overpower thought by
excessive fatigue?

To Aunt Medea alone did Blanche reveal her secret heart.

\x93I am like a culprit who has been bound to the scaffold, and then
abandoned by the executioner, who says, as he departs: \x91Live until the
axe falls of its own accord.\x92\x94

And the axe might fall at any moment. A word, a trifle, an unlucky
chance--she dared not say \x93a decree of Providence,\x94 and Martial would
know all.

Such, in all its unspeakable horror, was the position of the beautiful
and envied Duchesse de Sairmeuse. \x93She must be perfectly happy,\x94 said
the world; but she felt herself sliding down the precipice to the awful
depths below.

Like a shipwrecked mariner clinging to a floating spar, she scanned
the horizon with a despairing eye, and saw only angry and threatening
clouds.

Time, perhaps, might bring her some relief.

Once it happened that six weeks went by, and she heard nothing from
Chupin. A month and a half! What had become of him? To Mme. Blanche this
silence was as ominous as the calm that precedes the storm.

A line in a newspaper solved the mystery.

Chupin was in prison.

The wretch, after drinking more heavily than usual one evening, had
quarrelled with his brother, and had killed him by a blow upon the head
with a piece of iron.

The blood of the betrayed Lacheneur was visited upon the heads of his
murderer\x92s children.

Tried by the Court of Assizes, Chupin was condemned to twenty years of
hard labor, and sent to Brest.

But this sentence afforded the duchess no relief. The culprit had
written to her from his Paris prison; he wrote to her from Brest.

But he did not send his letters through the post. He confided them to
comrades, whose terms of imprisonment had expired, and who came to the
Hotel de Sairmeuse demanding an interview with the duchess.

And she received them. They told all the miseries they had endured \x93out
there;\x94 and usually ended by requesting some slight assistance.

One morning, a man whose desperate appearance and manner frightened her,
brought the duchess this laconic epistle:


\x93I am tired of starving here; I wish to make my escape. Come to Brest;
you can visit the prison, and we will decide upon some plan. If you
refuse to do this, I shall apply to the duke, who will obtain my pardon
in exchange of what I will tell him.\x94


Mme. Blanche was dumb with horror. It was impossible, she thought, to
sink lower than this.

\x93Well!\x94 demanded the man, harshly. \x93What reply shall I make to my
comrade?\x94

\x93I will go--tell him that I will go!\x94 she said, driven to desperation.

She made the journey, visited the prison, but did not find Chupin.

The previous week there had been a revolt in the prison, the troops had
fired upon the prisoners, and Chupin had been killed instantly.

Still the duchess dared not rejoice.

She feared that her tormentor had told his wife the secret of his power.

\x93I shall soon know,\x94 she thought.

The widow promptly made her appearance; but her manner was humble and
supplicating.

She had often heard her dear, dead husband say that madame was his
benefactress, and now she came to beg a little aid to enable her to open
a small drinking saloon.

Her son Polyte--ah! such a good son! just eighteen years old, and such
a help to his poor mother--had discovered a little house in a good
situation for the business, and if they only had three or four hundred
francs----

Mme. Blanche gave her five hundred francs.

\x93Either her humility is a mask,\x94 she thought, \x93or her husband has told
her nothing.\x94

Five days later Polyte Chupin presented himself.

They needed three hundred francs more before they could commence
business, and he came on behalf of his mother to entreat the kind lady
to advance them.

Determined to discover exactly where she stood, the duchess shortly
refused, and the young man departed without a word.

Evidently the mother and son were ignorant of the facts. Chupin\x92s secret
had died with him.

This happened early in January. Toward the last of February, Aunt Medea
contracted inflammation of the lungs on leaving a fancy ball, which she
attended in an absurd costume, in spite of all the attempts which her
niece made to dissuade her.

Her passion for dress killed her. Her illness lasted only three days;
but her sufferings, physical and mental, were terrible.

Constrained by her fear of death to examine her own conscience, she
saw plainly that by profiting by the crime of her niece she had been
as culpable as if she had aided her in committing it. She had been very
devout in former years, and now her superstitious fears were reawakened
and intensified. Her faith returned, accompanied by a _cortege_ of
terrors.

\x93I am lost!\x94 she cried; \x93I am lost!\x94

She tossed to and fro upon her bed; she writhed and shrieked as if she
already saw hell opening to engulf her.

She called upon the Holy Virgin and upon all the saints to protect her.
She entreated God to grant her time for repentance and for expiation.
She begged to see a priest, swearing she would make a full confession.

Paler than the dying woman, but implacable, Blanche watched over her,
aided by that one of her personal attendants in whom she had most
confidence.

\x93If this lasts long, I shall be ruined,\x94 she thought. \x93I shall be
obliged to call for assistance, and she will betray me.\x94

It did not last long.

The patient\x92s delirium was succeeded by such utter prostration that it
seemed each moment would be her last.

But toward midnight she appeared to revive a little, and in a voice of
intense feeling, she said:

\x93You have had no pity, Blanche. You have deprived me of all hope in
the life to come. God will punish you. You, too, shall die like a dog;
alone, without a word of Christian counsel or encouragement. I curse
you!\x94

And she died just as the clock was striking two.

The time when Blanche would have given almost anything to know that Aunt
Medea was beneath the sod, had long since passed.

Now, the death of the poor old woman affected her deeply.

She had lost an accomplice who had often consoled her, and she had
gained nothing, since one of her maids was now acquainted with the
secret of the crime at the Borderie.

Everyone who was intimately acquainted with the Duchesse de Sairmeuse,
noticed her dejection, and was astonished by it.

\x93Is it not strange,\x94 remarked her friends, \x93that the duchess--such a
very superior woman--should grieve so much for that absurd relative of
hers?\x94

But the dejection of Mme. Blanche was due in great measure to the
sinister prophecies of the accomplice to whom she had denied the last
consolations of religion.

And as her mind reviewed the past she shuddered, as the peasants at
Sairmeuse had done, when she thought of the fatality which had pursued
the shedders of innocent blood.

What misfortune had attended them all--from the sons of Chupin, the
miserable traitor, up to her father, the Marquis de Courtornieu, whose
mind had not been illumined by the least gleam of reason for ten long
years before his death.

\x93My turn will come!\x94 she thought.

The Baron and the Baroness d\x92Escorval, and old Corporal Bavois had
departed this life within a month of each other, the previous year,
mourned by all.

So that of all the people of diverse condition who had been connected
with the troubles at Montaignac, Blanche knew only four who were still
alive.

Maurice d\x92Escorval, who had entered the magistracy, and was now a judge
in the tribunal of the Seine; Abbe Midon, who had come to Paris with
Maurice, and Martial and herself.

There was another person, the bare recollection of whom made her
tremble, and whose name she dared not utter.

Jean Lacheneur, Marie-Anne\x92s brother.

An inward voice, more powerful than reason, told her that this
implacable enemy was still alive, watching for his hour of vengeance.

More troubled by her presentiments now, than she had been by Chupin\x92s
persecutions in days gone by, Mme. de Sairmeuse decided to apply to
Chelteux in order to ascertain, if possible, what she had to expect.

Fouche\x92s former agent had not wavered in his devotion to the duchess.
Every three months he presented his bill, which was paid without
discussion; and to ease his conscience, he sent one of his men to prowl
around Sairmeuse for a while, at least once a year.

Animated by the hope of a magnificent reward, the spy promised his
client, and--what was more to the purpose--promised himself, that he
would discover this dreaded enemy.

He started in quest of him, and had already begun to collect proofs of
Jean\x92s existence, when his investigations were abruptly terminated.

One morning the body of a man literally hacked in pieces was found in an
old well. It was the body of Chelteux.

\x93A fitting close to the career of such a wretch,\x94 said the _Journal des
Debats_, in noting the event.

When she read this news, Mme. Blanche felt as a culprit would feel on
reading his death-warrant.

\x93The end is near,\x94 she murmured. \x93Lacheneur is coming!\x94

The duchess was not mistaken.

Jean had told the truth when he declared that he was not disposing of
his sister\x92s estate for his own benefit. In his opinion, Marie-Anne\x92s
fortune must be consecrated to one sacred purpose; he would not divert
the slightest portion of it to his individual needs.

He was absolutely penniless when the manager of a travelling theatrical
company engaged him for a consideration of forty-five francs per month.

From that day he lived the precarious life of a strolling player. He was
poorly paid, and often reduced to abject poverty by lack of engagements,
or by the impecuniosity of managers.

His hatred had lost none of its virulence; but to wreak the desired
vengeance upon his enemy, he must have time and money at his disposal.

But how could he accumulate money when he was often too poor to appease
his hunger?

Still he did not renounce his hopes. His was a rancor which was only
intensified by years. He was biding his time while he watched from the
depths of his misery the brilliant fortunes of the house of Sairmeuse.

He had waited sixteen years, when one of his friends procured him an
engagement in Russia.

The engagement was nothing; but the poor comedian was afterward
fortunate enough to obtain an interest in a theatrical enterprise, from
which he realized a fortune of one hundred thousand francs in less than
six years.

\x93Now,\x94 said he, \x93I can give up this life. I am rich enough, now, to
begin the warfare.\x94

And six weeks later he arrived in his native village.

Before carrying any of his atrocious designs into execution, he went
to Sairmeuse to visit Marie-Anne\x92s grave, in order to obtain there an
increase of animosity, as well as the relentless _sang-froid_ of a stern
avenger of crime.

That was his only motive in going, but, on the very evening of his
arrival, he learned through a garrulous old peasant woman that ever
since his departure--that is to say, for a period of twenty years--two
parties had been making persistent inquiries for a child which had been
placed somewhere in the neighborhood.

Jean knew that it was Marie-Anne\x92s child they were seeking. Why they had
not succeeded in finding it, he knew equally well.

But why were there two persons seeking the child? One was Maurice
d\x92Escorval, of course, but who was the other?

Instead of remaining at Sairmeuse a week, Jean Lacheneur tarried there a
month; and by the expiration of that month he had traced these inquiries
concerning the child to the agent of Chelteux. Through him, he reached
Fouche\x92s former spy; and, finally, succeeded in discovering that the
search had been instituted by no less a person than the Duchesse de
Sairmeuse.

This discovery bewildered him. How could Mme. Blanche have known that
Marie-Anne had given birth to a child; and knowing it, what possible
interest could she have had in finding it?

These two questions tormented Jean\x92s mind continually; but he could
discover no satisfactory answer.

\x93Chupin\x92s son could tell me, perhaps,\x94 he thought. \x93I must pretend to be
reconciled to the sons of the wretch who betrayed my father.\x94

But the traitor\x92s children had been dead for several years, and after a
long search, Jean found only the Widow Chupin and her son, Polyte.

They were keeping a drinking-saloon not far from the
Chateau-des-Rentiers; and their establishment, known as the Poivriere,
bore anything but an enviable reputation.

Lacheneur questioned the widow and her son in vain; they could give him
no information whatever on the subject. He told them his name, but even
this did not awaken the slightest recollection in their minds.

Jean was about to take his departure when Mother Chupin, probably in the
hope of extracting a few pennies, began to deplore her present misery,
which was, she declared, all the harder to bear since she had wanted for
nothing during the life of her poor husband, who had always obtained
as much money as he wanted from a lady of high degree--the Duchesse de
Sairmeuse, in short.

Lacheneur uttered such a terrible oath that the old woman and her son
started back in affright.

He saw at once the close connection between the researches of Mme.
Blanche and her generosity to Chupin.

\x93It was she who poisoned Marie-Anne,\x94 he said to himself. \x93It was
through my sister that she became aware of the existence of the
child. She loaded Chupin with favors because he knew the crime she had
committed--that crime in which his father had been only an accomplice.\x94

He remembered Martial\x92s oath at the bedside of the murdered girl, and
his heart overflowed with savage exultation. He saw his two enemies, the
last of the Sairmeuse and the last of the Courtornieu take in their own
hands his work of vengeance.

But this was mere conjecture; he desired to be assured of the
correctness of his suppositions.

He drew from his pocket a handful of gold, and, throwing it upon the
table, he said:

\x93I am very rich; if you will obey me and keep my secret, your fortune is
made.\x94

A shrill cry of delight from mother and son outweighed any protestations
of obedience.

The Widow Chupin knew how to write, and Lacheneur dictated this letter:


\x93Madame la Duchesse--I shall expect you at my establishment to-morrow
between twelve and four o\x92clock. It is on business connected with the
Borderie. If at five o\x92clock I have not seen you, I shall carry to the
post a letter for the duke.\x94


\x93And if she comes what am I to say to her?\x94 asked the astonished widow.

\x93Nothing; you will merely ask her for money.\x94

\x93If she comes, it is as I have guessed,\x94 he reflected.

She came.

Hidden in the loft of the Poivriere, Jean, through an opening in the
floor, saw the duchess give a banknote to Mother Chupin.

\x93Now, she is in my power!\x94 he thought exultantly. \x93Through what sloughs
of degradation will I drag her before I deliver her up to her husband\x92s
vengeance!\x94



CHAPTER LIV

A few lines of the article consecrated to Martial de Sairmeuse in the
\x93General Biography of the Men of the Century,\x94 give the history of his
life after his marriage.


\x93Martial de Sairmeuse,\x94 it says there, \x93brought to the service of his
party a brilliant intellect and admirable endowments. Called to the
front at the moment when political strife was raging with the utmost
violence, he had courage to assume the sole responsibility of the most
extreme measures.

\x93Compelled by almost universal opprobrium to retire from office, he left
behind him animosities which will be extinguished only with life.\x94


But what this article does not state is this: if Martial was wrong--and
that depends entirely upon the point of view from which his conduct
is regarded--he was doubly wrong, since he was not possessed of those
ardent convictions verging upon fanaticism which make men fools, heroes,
and martyrs.

He was not even ambitious.

Those associated with him, witnessing his passionate struggle and his
unceasing activity, thought him actuated by an insatiable thirst for
power.

He cared little or nothing for it. He considered its burdens heavy; its
compensations small. His pride was too lofty to feel any satisfaction in
the applause that delights the vain, and flattery disgusted him.
Often, in his princely drawing-rooms, during some brilliant fete, his
acquaintances noticed a shade of gloom steal over his features, and
seeing him thus thoughtful and preoccupied, they respectfully refrained
from disturbing him.

\x93His mind is occupied with momentous questions,\x94 they thought. \x93Who can
tell what important decisions may result from this revery?\x94

They were mistaken.

At the very moment when his brilliant success made his rivals pale with
envy--when it would seem that he had nothing left to wish for in this
world, Martial was saying to himself:

\x93What an empty life! What weariness and vexation of spirit! To live for
others--what a mockery!\x94

He looked at his wife, radiant in her beauty, worshipped like a queen,
and he sighed.

He thought of her who was dead--Marie-Anne--the only woman whom he had
ever loved.

She was never absent from his mind. After all these years he saw her
yet, cold, rigid, lifeless, in that luxurious room at the Borderie;
and time, far from effacing the image of the fair girl who had won his
youthful heart, made it still more radiant and endowed his lost idol
with almost superhuman grace of person and of character.

If fate had but given him Marie-Anne for his wife! He said this to
himself again and again, picturing the exquisite happiness which a life
with her would have afforded him.

They would have remained at Sairmeuse. They would have had lovely
children playing around them! He would not be condemned to this
continual warfare--to this hollow, unsatisfying, restless life.

The truly happy are not those who parade their satisfaction and
good fortune before the eyes of the multitude. The truly happy hide
themselves from the curious gaze, and they are right; happiness is
almost a crime.

So thought Martial; and he, the great statesman, often said to himself,
in a sort of rage:

\x93To love, and to be loved--that is everything! All else is vanity.\x94

He had really tried to love his wife; he had done his best to rekindle
the admiration with which she had inspired him at their first meeting.
He had not succeeded.

Between them there seemed to be a wall of ice which nothing could melt,
and which was constantly increasing in height and thickness.

\x93Why is it?\x94 he wondered, again and again. \x93It is incomprehensible.
There are days when I could swear that she loved me. Her character,
formerly so irritable, is entirely changed; she is gentleness itself.\x94

But he could not conquer his aversion; it was stronger than his own
will.

These unavailing regrets, and the disappointments and sorrow that
preyed upon him, undoubtedly aggravated the bitterness and severity of
Martial\x92s policy.

But he, at least, knew how to fall nobly.

He passed, without even a change of countenance, from almost omnipotence
to a position so compromising that his very life was endangered.

On seeing his ante-chambers, formerly thronged with flatterers and
office-seekers, empty and deserted, he laughed, and his laugh was
unaffected.

\x93The ship is sinking,\x94 said he; \x93the rats have deserted it.\x94

He did not even pale when the noisy crowd came to hoot and curse and
hurl stones at his windows; and when Otto, his faithful _valet de
chambre_, entreated him to assume a disguise and make his escape through
the gardens, he responded:

\x93By no means! I am simply odious; I do not wish to become ridiculous!\x94

They could not even dissuade him from going to a window and looking down
upon the rabble in the street below.

A singular idea had just occurred to him.

\x93If Jean Lacheneur is still alive,\x94 he thought, \x93how much he would enjoy
this! And if he is alive, he is undoubtedly there in the foremost rank,
urging on the crowd.\x94

And he wished to see.

But Jean Lacheneur was in Russia at that epoch. The excitement subsided;
the Hotel de Sairmeuse was not seriously threatened. Still Martial
realized that it would be better for him to go away for a while, and
allow people to forget him.

He did not ask the duchess to accompany him.

\x93The fault has been mine entirely,\x94 he said to her, \x93and to make you
suffer for it by condemning you to exile would be unjust. Remain here; I
think it will be much better for you to remain here.\x94

She did not offer to go with him. It would have been a pleasure to her,
but she dared not leave Paris. She knew that she must remain in order
to insure the silence of her persecutors. Both times she had left Paris
before, all came near being discovered, and yet she had Aunt Medea,
then, to take her place.

Martial went away, accompanied only by his devoted servant, Otto.
In intelligence, this man was decidedly superior to his position; he
possessed an independent fortune, and he had a hundred reasons--one, by
the way, was a very pretty one--for desiring to remain in Paris; but his
master was in trouble, and he did not hesitate.

For four years the Duc de Sairmeuse wandered over Europe, ever
accompanied by his _ennui_ and his dejection, and chafing beneath the
burden of a life no longer animated by interest or sustained by hope.

He remained awhile in London, then he went to Vienna, afterward to
Venice. One day he was seized by an irresistible desire to see Paris
again, and he returned.

It was not a very prudent step, perhaps. His bitterest enemies--personal
enemies, whom he had mortally offended and persecuted--were in power;
but he did not hesitate. Besides, how could they injure him, since he
had no favors to ask, no cravings of ambition to satisfy?

The exile which had weighed so heavily upon him, the sorrow, the
disappointments and loneliness he had endured had softened his nature
and inclined his heart to tenderness; and he returned firmly resolved to
overcome his aversion to his wife, and seek a reconciliation.

\x93Old age is approaching,\x94 he thought. \x93If I have not a beloved wife at
my fireside, I may at least have a friend.\x94

His manner toward her, on his return, astonished Mme. Blanche. She
almost believed she saw again the Martial of the little blue salon at
Courtornieu; but the realization of her cherished dream was now only
another torture added to all the others.

Martial was striving to carry his plan into execution, when the
following laconic epistle came to him one day through the post:


\x93Monsieur le Duc--I, if I were in your place, would watch my wife.\x94


It was only an anonymous letter, but Martial\x92s blood mounted to his
forehead.

\x93Can it be that she has a lover?\x94 he thought.

Then reflecting on his own conduct toward his wife since their marriage,
he said to himself:

\x93And if she has, have I any right to complain? Did I not tacitly give
her back her liberty?\x94

He was greatly troubled, and yet he would not have degraded himself
so much as to play the spy, had it not been for one of those trifling
circumstances which so often decide a man\x92s destiny.

He was returning from a ride on horseback one morning about eleven
o\x92clock, and he was not thirty paces from the Hotel de Sairmeuse when
he saw a lady hurriedly emerge from the house. She was very plainly
dressed--entirely in black--but her whole appearance was strikingly that
of the duchess.

\x93It is certainly my wife; but why is she dressed in such a fashion?\x94 he
thought.

Had he been on foot he would certainly have entered the house; as it
was, he slowly followed Mme. Blanche, who was going up the Rue Grenelle.
She walked very quickly, and without turning her head, and kept her face
persistently shrouded in a very thick veil.

When she reached the Rue Taranne, she threw herself into one of the
_fiacres_ at the carriage-stand.

The coachman came to the door to speak to her; then nimbly sprang upon
the box, and gave his bony horses one of those cuts of the whip that
announce a princely _pourboire_.

The carriage had already turned the corner of the Rue du Dragon, and
Martial, ashamed and irresolute, had not moved from the place where he
had stopped his horse, just around the corner of the Rue Saint Pares.

Not daring to admit his suspicions, he tried to deceive himself.

\x93Nonsense!\x94 he thought, giving the reins to his horse, \x93what do I risk
in advancing? The carriage is a long way off by this time, and I shall
not overtake it.\x94

He did overtake it, however, on reaching the intersection of the
Croix-Rouge, where there was, as usual, a crowd of vehicles.

It was the same _fiacre_; Martial recognized it by its green body, and
its wheels striped with white.

Emerging from the crowd of carriages, the driver whipped up his horses,
and it was at a gallop that they flew up the Rue du Vieux Columbier--the
narrowest street that borders the Place Saint Sulpice--and gained the
outer boulevards.

Martial\x92s thoughts were busy as he trotted along about a hundred yards
behind the vehicle.

\x93She is in a terrible hurry,\x94 he said to himself. \x93This, however, is
scarcely the quarter for a lover\x92s rendezvous.\x94

The carriage had passed the Place d\x92Italie. It entered the Rue du
Chateau-des-Rentiers and soon paused before a tract of unoccupied
ground.

The door was at once opened, and the Duchesse de Sairmeuse hastily
alighted.

Without stopping to look to the right or to the left, she hurried across
the open space.

A man, by no means prepossessing in appearance, with a long beard, and
with a pipe in his mouth, and clad in a workman\x92s blouse, was seated
upon a large block of stone not far off.

\x93Will you hold my horse a moment?\x94 inquired Martial.

\x93Certainly,\x94 answered the man.

Had Martial been less preoccupied, his suspicions might have been
aroused by the malicious smile that curved the man\x92s lips; and had he
examined his features closely, he would perhaps have recognized him.

For it was Jean Lacheneur.

Since addressing that anonymous letter to the Duc de Sairmeuse, he had
made the duchess multiply her visits to the Widow Chupin; and each time
he had watched for her coming.

\x93So, if her husband decides to follow her I shall know it,\x94 he thought.

It was indispensable for the success of his plans that Mme. Blanche
should be watched by her husband.

For Jean Lacheneur had decided upon his course. From a thousand schemes
for revenge he had chosen the most frightful and ignoble that a brain
maddened and enfevered by hatred could possibly conceive.

He longed to see the haughty Duchesse de Sairmeuse subjected to the
vilest ignominy, Martial in the hands of the lowest of the low. He
pictured a bloody struggle in this miserable den; the sudden arrival
of the police, summoned by himself, who would arrest all the parties
indiscriminately. He gloated over the thought of a trial in which the
crime committed at the Borderie would be brought to light; he saw the
duke and the duchess in prison, and the great names of Sairmeuse and of
Courtornieu shrouded in eternal disgrace.

And he believed that nothing was wanting to insure the success of his
plans. He had at his disposal two miserable wretches who were capable
of any crime; and an unfortunate youth named Gustave, made his willing
slave by poverty and cowardice, was intended to play the part of
Marie-Anne\x92s son.

These three accomplices had no suspicion of his real intentions. As for
the Widow Chupin and her son, if they suspected some infamous plot, the
name of the duchess was all they really knew in regard to it. Moreover,
Jean held Polyte and his mother completely under his control by the
wealth which he had promised them if they served him docilely.

And if Martial followed his wife into the Poivriere, Jean had so
arranged matters that the duke would at first suppose that she had been
led there by charity.

\x93But he will not go in,\x94 thought Lacheneur, whose heart throbbed wildly
with sinister joy as he held Martial\x92s horse. \x93Monsieur le Duc is too
fine for that.\x94

And Martial did not go in. Though he was horrified when he saw his wife
enter that vile den, as if she were at home there, he said to himself
that he should learn nothing by following her.

He, therefore, contented himself by making a thorough examination of
the outside of the house; then, remounting his horse, he departed on a
gallop. He was completely mystified; he did not know what to think, what
to imagine, what to believe.

But he was fully resolved to fathom this mystery and as soon as he
returned home he sent Otto out in search of information. He could
confide everything to this devoted servant; he had no secrets from him.

About four o\x92clock his faithful _valet de chambre_ returned, an
expression of profound consternation visible upon his countenance.

\x93What is it?\x94 asked Martial, divining some great misfortune.

\x93Ah, sir, the mistress of that wretched den is the widow of Chupin\x92s
son----\x94

Martial\x92s face became as white as his linen.

He knew life too well not to understand that since the duchess had been
compelled to submit to the power of these people, they must be masters
of some secret which she was willing to make any sacrifice to preserve.
But what secret?

The years which had silvered Martial\x92s hair, had not cooled the ardor of
his blood. He was, as he had always been, a man of impulses.

He rushed to his wife\x92s apartments.

\x93Madame has just gone down to receive the Countess de Mussidan and the
Marquise d\x92Arlange,\x94 said the maid.

\x93Very well; I will wait for her here. Retire.\x94

And Martial entered the chamber of Mme. Blanche.

The room was in disorder, for the duchess, after returning from the
Poivriere, was still engaged in her toilet when the visitors were
announced.

The wardrobe-doors were open, the chairs were encumbered with wearing
apparel, the articles which Mme. Blanche used daily--her watch, her
purse, and several bunches of keys--were lying upon the dressing-table
and mantel.

Martial did not sit down. His self-possession was returning.

\x93No folly,\x94 he thought, \x93if I question her, I shall learn nothing. I
must be silent and watchful.\x94

He was about to retire, when, on glancing about the room, his eyes fell
upon a large casket, inlaid with silver, which had belonged to his wife
ever since she was a young girl, and which accompanied her everywhere.

\x93That, doubtless, holds the solution of the mystery,\x94 he said to
himself.

It was one of those moments when a man obeys the dictates of passion
without pausing to reflect. He saw the keys upon the mantel; he seized
them, and endeavored to find one that would fit the lock of the casket.
The fourth key opened it. It was full of papers.

With feverish haste, Martial examined the contents. He had thrown
aside several unimportant letters, when he came to a bill that read as
follows:

\x93Search for the child of Madame de Sairmeuse. Expenses for the third
quarter of the year 18--.\x94

Martial\x92s brain reeled.

A child! His wife had a child!

He read on: \x93For services of two agents at Sairmeuse, ----. For expenses
attending my own journey, ----. Divers gratuities, ----. Etc., etc.\x94 The
total amounted to six thousand francs. The bill was signed \x93Chelteux.\x94

With a sort of cold rage, Martial continued his examination of the
contents of the casket, and found a note written in a miserable hand,
that said: \x93Two thousand francs this evening, or I will tell the duke
the history of the affair at the Borderie.\x94 Then several more bills from
Chelteux; then a letter from Aunt Medea in which she spoke of prison
and of remorse. And finally, at the bottom of the casket, he found the
marriage-certificate of Marie-Anne Lacheneur and Maurice d\x92Escorval,
drawn up by the Cure of Vigano and signed by the old physician and
Corporal Bavois.

The truth was as clear as daylight.

Stunned, frozen with horror, Martial scarcely had strength to return the
letters to the casket and restore it to its place.

Then he tottered back to his own room, clinging to the walls for
support.

\x93It was she who murdered Marie-Anne,\x94 he murmured.

He was confounded, terror-stricken by the perfidy and baseness of
this woman who was his wife--by her criminal audacity, by her cool
calculation and assurance, by her marvellous powers of dissimulation.

He swore he would discover all, either through the duchess or through
the Widow Chupin; and he ordered Otto to procure a costume for him such
as was generally worn by the _habitues_ of the Poivriere. He did not
know how soon he might have use for it.

This happened early in February, and from that moment Mme. Blanche did
not take a single step without being watched. Not a letter reached her
that her husband had not previously read.

And she had not the slightest suspicion of the constant espionage to
which she was subjected.

Martial did not leave his room; he pretended to be ill. To meet his
wife and be silent, was beyond his powers. He remembered the oath of
vengeance which he had pronounced over Marie-Anne\x92s lifeless form too
well.

But there were no new revelations, and for this reason: Polyte Chupin
had been arrested under charge of theft, and this accident caused a
delay in the execution of Lacheneur\x92s plans. But, at last, he judged
that all would be in readiness on the 20th of February, Shrove Sunday.

The evening before the Widow Chupin, in conformance with his
instructions, wrote to the duchess that she must come to the Poivriere
Sunday evening at eleven o\x92clock.

On that same evening Jean was to meet his accomplices at a ball at the
Rainbow--a public-house bearing a very unenviable reputation--and give
them their last instructions.

These accomplices were to open the scene; he was to appear only in the
_denouement_.

\x93All is well arranged; the mechanism will work of its own accord,\x94 he
said to himself.

But the \x93mechanism,\x94 as he styled it, failed to work.

Mme. Blanche, on receiving the Widow Chupin\x92s summons, revolted for a
moment. The lateness of the hour, the isolation of the spot designated,
frightened her.

But she was obliged to submit, and on the appointed evening she
furtively left the house, accompanied by Camille, the same servant who
had witnessed Aunt Medea\x92s last agony.

The duchess and her maid were attired like women of the very lowest
order, and felt no fear of being seen or recognized.

And yet a man was watching them, and he quickly followed them. It was
Martial.

Knowing of this rendezvous even before his wife, he had disguised
himself in the costume Otto had procured for him, which was that of a
laborer about the quays; and, as he was a man who did perfectly
whatever he attempted to do, he had succeeded in rendering himself
unrecognizable. His hair and beard were rough and matted; his hands were
soiled and grimed with dirt; he was really the abject wretch whose rags
he wore.

Otto had begged to be allowed to accompany him; but the duke refused,
saying that the revolver which he would take with him would be
sufficient protection. He knew Otto well enough, however, to be certain
he would disobey him.

Ten o\x92clock was sounding when Mme. Blanche and Camille left the house,
and it did not take them five minutes to reach the Rue Taranne.

There was one _fiacre_ on the stand--one only.

They entered it and it drove away.

This circumstance drew from Martial an oath worthy of his costume. Then
he reflected that, since he knew where to find his wife, a slight delay
in finding a carriage did not matter.

He soon obtained one; and the coachman, thanks to a _pourboire_ of ten
francs, drove to the Rue du Chateau-des-Rentiers as fast as his horses
could go.

But the duke had scarcely set foot on the ground before he heard
the rumbling of another carriage which stopped abruptly at a little
distance.

\x93Otto is evidently following me,\x94 he thought.

And he started across the open space in the direction of the Poivriere.

Gloom and silence prevailed on every side, and were made still more
oppressive by a chill fog that heralded an approaching thaw. Martial
stumbled and slipped at almost every step upon the rough, snow-covered
ground.

It was not long before he could distinguish a dark mass in the midst
of the fog. It was the Poivriere. The light within filtered through the
heart-shaped openings in the blinds, looking at a distance like lurid
eyes gleaming in the darkness.

Could it really be possible that the Duchesse de Sairmeuse was there!

Martial cautiously approached the window, and clinging to the hinges of
one of the shutters, he lifted himself up so he could peer through the
opening.

Yes, his wife was indeed there in that vile den.

She and Camille were seated at a table before a large punch-bowl, and
in company with two ragged, leering scoundrels, and a soldier, quite
youthful in appearance.

In the centre of the room stood the Widow Chupin, with a small glass
in her hand, talking volubly and punctuating her sentences by copious
draughts of brandy.

The impression produced upon Martial was so terrible that his hold
relaxed and he dropped to the ground.

A ray of pity penetrated his soul, for he vaguely realized the frightful
suffering which had been the chastisement of the murderess.

But he desired another glance at the interior of the hovel, and he again
lifted himself up to the opening and looked in.

The old woman had disappeared; the young soldier had risen from the
table and was talking and gesticulating earnestly. Mme. Blanche and
Camille were listening to him with the closest attention.

The two men who were sitting face to face, with their elbows upon the
table, were looking at each other; and Martial saw them exchange a
significant glance.

He was not wrong. The scoundrels were plotting \x93a rich haul.\x94

Mme. Blanche, who had dressed herself with such care, that to render her
disguise perfect she had encased her feet in large, coarse shoes that
were almost killing her--Mme. Blanche had forgotten to remove her superb
diamond ear-rings.

She had forgotten them, but Lacheneur\x92s accomplices had noticed them,
and were now regarding them with eyes that glittered more brilliantly
than the diamonds themselves.

While awaiting Lacheneur\x92s coming, these wretches, as had been agreed
upon, were playing the part which he had imposed upon them. For this,
and their assistance afterward, they were to receive a certain sum of
money.

But they were thinking that this sum was not, perhaps, a quarter part of
the value of these jewels, and they exchanged glances that said:

\x93Ah! if we could only get them and make our escape before Lacheneur
comes!\x94

The temptation was too strong to be resisted.

One of them rose suddenly, and, seizing the duchess by the back of the
neck, he forced her head down upon the table.

The diamonds would have been torn from the ears of Mme. Blanche had it
not been for Camille, who bravely came to the aid of her mistress.

Martial could endure no more. He sprang to the door of the hovel, opened
it, and entered, bolting it behind him.

\x93Martial!\x94

\x93Monsieur le Duc!\x94

These cries escaping the lips of Mme. Blanche and Camille in the same
breath, changed the momentary stupor of their assailants into fury; and
they both precipitated themselves upon Martial, determined to kill him.

With a spring to one side, Martial avoided them. He had his revolver in
his hand; he fired twice and the wretches fell. But he was not yet safe,
for the young soldier threw himself upon him, and attempted to disarm
him.

Through all the furious struggle, Martial did not cease crying, in a
panting voice:

\x93Fly! Blanche, fly! Otto is not far off. The name--save the honor of the
name!\x94

The two women obeyed, making their escape through the back door, which
opened upon the garden; and they had scarcely done so, before a violent
knocking was heard at the front door.

The police were coming! This increased Martial\x92s frenzy; and with one
supreme effort to free himself from his assailant, he gave him such
a violent push that his adversary fell, striking his head against the
corner of the table, after which he lay like one dead.

But the Widow Chupin, who had come downstairs on hearing the uproar, was
shrieking upon the stairs. At the door someone was crying: \x93Open in the
name of the law!\x94

Martial might have fled; but if he fled, the duchess might be captured,
for he would certainly be pursued. He saw the peril at a glance, and his
decision was made.

He shook the Widow Chupin violently by the arm, and said, in an
imperious voice:

\x93If you know how to hold your tongue you shall have one hundred thousand
francs.\x94

Then, drawing a table before the door opening into the adjoining room,
he intrenched himself behind it as behind a rampart, and awaited the
approach of the enemy.

The next moment the door was forced open, and a squad of police, under
the command of Inspector Gevrol, entered the room.

\x93Surrender!\x94 cried the inspector.

Martial did not move; his pistol was turned upon the intruder.

\x93If I can parley with them, and hold them in check only two minutes, all
may yet be saved,\x94 he thought.

He obtained the wished-for delay; then he threw his weapon to the
ground, and was about to bound through the back-door, when a policeman,
who had gone round to the rear of the house, seized him about the body,
and threw him to the floor.

From this side he expected only assistance, so he cried:

\x93Lost! It is the Prussians who are coming!\x94

In the twinkling of an eye he was bound; and two hours later he was an
inmate of the station-house at the Place d\x92Italie.

He had played his part so perfectly, that he had deceived even Gevrol.
The other participants in the broil were dead, and he could rely upon
the Widow Chupin. But he knew that the trap had been set for him by Jean
Lacheneur; and he read a whole volume of suspicion in the eyes of the
young officer who had cut off his retreat, and who was called Lecoq by
his companions.



CHAPTER LV

The Duc de Sairmeuse was one of those men who remain superior to all
fortuitous circumstances, good or bad. He was a man of vast experience,
and great natural shrewdness. His mind was quick to act, and fertile in
resources. But when he found himself immured in the damp and loathsome
station-house, after the terrible scenes at the Poivriere, he
relinquished all hope.

Martial knew that Justice does not trust to appearances, and that when
she finds herself confronted by a mystery, she does not rest until she
has fathomed it.

Martial knew, only too well, that if his identity was established, the
authorities would endeavor to discover the reason of his presence at
the Poivriere. That this reason would soon be discovered, he could not
doubt, and, in that case, the crime at the Borderie, and the guilt of
the duchess, would undoubtedly be made public.

This meant the Court of Assizes, prison, a frightful scandal, dishonor,
eternal disgrace!

And the power he had wielded in former days was a positive disadvantage
to him now. His place was now filled by his political adversaries. Among
them were two personal enemies upon whom he had inflicted those terrible
wounds of vanity which are never healed. What an opportunity for revenge
this would afford them!

At the thought of this ineffaceable stain upon the great name of
Sairmeuse, which was his pride and his glory, reason almost forsook him.

\x93My God, inspire me,\x94 he murmured. \x93How shall I save the honor of the
name?\x94

He saw but one chance of salvation--death. They now believed him one of
the miserable wretches that haunt the suburbs of Paris; if he were dead
they would not trouble themselves about his identity.

\x93It is the only way!\x94 he thought.

He was endeavoring to find some means of accomplishing his plan of
self-destruction, when he heard a bustle and confusion outside. In a few
moments the door was opened and a man was thrust into the same cell--a
man who staggered a few steps, fell heavily to the floor, and began to
snore loudly. It was only a drunken man.

But a gleam of hope illumined Martial\x92s heart, for in the drunken man he
recognized Otto--disguised, almost unrecognizable.

It was a bold ruse and no time must be lost in profiting by it. Martial
stretched himself upon a bench, as if to sleep, in such a way that his
head was scarcely a yard from that of Otto.

\x93The duchess is out of danger,\x94 murmured the faithful servant.

\x93For to-day, perhaps. But to-morrow, through me, all will be known.\x94

\x93Have you told them who you are?\x94

\x93No; all the policemen but one took me for a vagabond.\x94

\x93You must continue to personate this character.\x94

\x93What good will it do? Lacheneur will betray me.\x94

But Martial, though he little knew it, had no need to fear Lacheneur for
the present, at least. A few hours before, on his way from the Rainbow
to the Poivriere, Jean had been precipitated to the bottom of a stone
quarry, and had fractured his skull. The laborers, on returning to their
work early in the morning, found him lying there senseless; and at that
very moment they were carrying him to the hospital.

Although Otto was ignorant of this circumstance, he did not seem
discouraged.

\x93There will be some way of getting rid of Lacheneur,\x94 said he, \x93if you
will only sustain your present character. An escape is an easy matter
when a man has millions at his command.\x94

\x93They will ask me who I am, whence I came, how I have lived.\x94

\x93You speak English and German; tell them that you have just returned
from foreign lands; that you were a foundling and that you have always
lived a roving life.\x94

\x93How can I prove this?\x94

Otto drew a little nearer his master, and said, impressively:

\x93We must agree upon our plans, for our success depends upon a perfect
understanding between us. I have a sweetheart in Paris--and no one knows
our relations. She is as sharp as steel. Her name is Milner, and she
keeps the Hotel de Mariembourg, on the Saint-Quentin. You can say that
you arrived here from Leipsic on Sunday; that you went to this hotel;
that you left your trunk there, and that this trunk is marked with the
name of May, foreign artist.\x94

\x93Capital!\x94 said Martial, approvingly.

And then, with extraordinary quickness and precision, they agreed, point
by point, upon their plan of defence.

When all had been arranged, Otto pretended to awake from the heavy sleep
of intoxication; he clamored to be released, and the keeper finally
opened the door and set him at liberty.

Before leaving the station-house, however, he succeeded in throwing a
note to the Widow Chupin, who was imprisoned in the other compartment.

So, when Lecoq, after his skilful investigations at the Poivriere,
rushed to the Place d\x92Italie, panting with hope and ambition, he found
himself outwitted by these men, who were inferior to him in penetration,
but whose _finesse_ was superior to his own.

Martial\x92s plans being fully formed, he intended to carry them out with
absolute perfection of detail, and, after his removal to prison, the
Duc de Sairmeuse was preparing himself for the visit of the judge of
instruction, when Maurice d\x92Escorval entered.

They recognized each other. They were both terribly agitated, and the
examination was an examination only in name. After the departure of
Maurice, Martial attempted to destroy himself. He had no faith in the
generosity of his former enemy.

But when he found M. Segmuller occupying Maurice\x92s place the next
morning, Martial believed that he was saved.

Then began that struggle between the judge and Lecoq on one side, and
the accused on the other--a struggle from which neither party came out
conqueror.

Martial knew that Lecoq was the only person he had to fear, still he
bore him no ill-will. Faithful to his nature, which compelled him to
be just even to his enemies, he could not help admiring the astonishing
penetration and perseverance of this young policeman who, undismayed
by the obstacles and discouragements that surrounded him, struggled on,
unassisted, to reach the truth.

But Lecoq was always outwitted by Otto, the mysterious accomplice, who
seemed to know his every movement in advance.

At the morgue, at the Hotel de Mariembourg, with Toinon, the wife of
Polyte Chupin, as well as with Polyte Chupin himself, Lecoq was just a
little too late.

Lecoq detected the secret correspondence between the prisoner and his
accomplice. He was even ingenious enough to discover the key to it, but
this served no purpose. A man, who had seen a rival, or rather, a future
master, in Lecoq had betrayed him.

If his efforts to arrive at the truth through the jeweller and the
Marquis d\x92Arlange had failed, it was only because Mme. Blanche had not
purchased the diamond ear-rings she wore at the Poivriere at any shop,
but from one of her friends, the Baroness de Watchau.

And lastly, if no one at Paris had missed the Duc de Sairmeuse, it
was because--thanks to an understanding between the duchess, Otto,
and Camille--no other inmate of the Hotel de Sairmeuse suspected his
absence. All the servants supposed their master confined to his room by
illness. They prepared all sorts of gruels and broths for him, and his
breakfast and dinner were taken to his apartments every day.

So the weeks went by, and Martial was expecting to be summoned before
the Court of Assizes and condemned under the name of May, when he was
afforded an opportunity to escape.

Too shrewd not to discern the trap that had been set for him, he endured
some moments of horrible hesitation in the prison-van.

He decided to accept the risk, however, commending himself to his lucky
star.

And he decided wisely, for that same night he leaped his own
garden-wall, leaving, as a hostage, in the hands of Lecoq, an escaped
convict, Joseph Conturier by name, whom he had picked up in a low
drinking-saloon.

Warned by Mme. Milner, thanks to a blunder on the part of Lecoq, Otto
was awaiting his master.

In the twinkling of an eye Martial\x92s beard fell under the razor; he
plunged into the bath that was awaiting him, and his clothing was
burned.

And it was he who, during the search a few minutes later, had the
hardihood to call out:

\x93Otto, by all means allow these men to do their duty.\x94

But he did not breathe freely until the agents of police had departed.

\x93At last,\x94 he exclaimed, \x93honor is saved! We have outwitted Lecoq!\x94

He had just left the bath, and enveloped himself in a _robe de chambre_,
when Otto handed him a letter from the duchess.

He hastily broke the seal and read:


\x93You are safe. You know all. I am dying. Farewell. I loved you.\x94


With two bounds he reached his wife\x92s apartments. The door was locked;
he burst it open. Too late!

Mme. Blanche was dead--poisoned, like Marie-Anne; but she had procured
a drug whose effect was instantaneous; and extended upon her couch, clad
in her wonted apparel, her hands folded upon her breast, she seemed only
asleep.

A tear glittered in Martial\x92s eye.

\x93Poor, unhappy woman!\x94 he murmured; \x93may God forgive you as I forgive
you--you whose crime has been so frightfully expiated here below!\x94



EPILOGUE

THE FIRST SUCCESS

Safe, in his own princely mansion, and surrounded by an army of
retainers, the Duc de Sairmeuse triumphantly exclaimed:

\x93We have outwitted Lecoq.\x94

In this he was right.

But he thought himself forever beyond the reach of the wily, keen-witted
detective; and in this he was wrong.

Lecoq was not the man to sit down with folded hands and brood over the
humiliation of his defeat.

Before he went to Father Tabaret, he was beginning to recover from his
stupor and despondency; and when he left that experienced detective\x92s
presence, he had regained his courage, his command over his faculties,
and sufficient energy to move the world, if necessary.

\x93Well, my good man,\x94 he remarked to Father Absinthe, who was trotting
along by his side, \x93you have heard what the great Monsieur Tabaret said,
did you not? So you see I was right.\x94

But his companion evinced no enthusiasm.

\x93Yes, you were right,\x94 he responded, in woebegone tones.

\x93Do you think we are ruined by two or three mistakes? Nonsense! I will
soon turn our defeat of today into a glorious victory.\x94

\x93Ah! you might do so perhaps, if--they do not dismiss us from the
force.\x94

This doleful remark recalled Lecoq to a realizing sense of the present
situation.

They had allowed a prisoner to slip through their fingers. That was
vexatious, it is true; but they had captured one of the most notorious
of criminals--Joseph Conturier. Surely there was some comfort in that.

But while Lecoq could have borne dismissal, he could not endure the
thought that he would not be allowed to follow up this affair of the
Poivriere.

What would his superior officers say when he told them that May and the
Duc de Sairmeuse were one and the same person?

They would, undoubtedly, shrug their shoulders and turn up their noses.

\x93Still, Monsieur Segmuller will believe me,\x94 he thought. \x93But will
he dare to take any action in the matter without incontrovertible
evidence?\x94

This was very unlikely. Lecoq realized it all too well.

\x93Could we not make a descent upon the Hotel de Sairmeuse, and, on some
pretext or other, compel the duke to show himself, and identify him as
the prisoner May?\x94

He entertained this idea only for an instant, then abruptly dismissed
it.

\x93A stupid expedient!\x94 he exclaimed. \x93Are two such men as the duke and
his accomplice likely to be caught napping? They are prepared for such a
visit, and we should only have our labor for our pains.\x94

He made these reflections _sotto voce_; and Father Absinthe\x92s curiosity
was aroused.

\x93Excuse me,\x94 said he, \x93I did not quite understand you.\x94

\x93I say that we must find some tangible proof before asking permission to
proceed further.\x94

He paused with knitted brows.

In seeking a circumstance which would establish the complicity between
some member of the duke\x92s household and the witnesses who had been
called upon to give their testimony, Lecoq thought of Mme. Milner, the
owner of the Hotel de Mariembourg, and his first meeting with her.

He saw her again, standing upon a chair, her face on a level with a
cage, covered with a large piece of black silk, persistently repeating
three or four German words to a starling, who as persistently retorted:
\x93Camille! Where is Camille?\x94

\x93One thing is certain,\x94 resumed Lecoq; \x93if Madame Milner--who is a
German and who speaks with the strongest possible German accent--had
raised this bird, it would either have spoken German or with the same
accent as its mistress. Therefore it cannot have been in her possession
long, and who gave it to her?\x94

Father Absinthe began to grow impatient.

\x93In sober earnest, what are you talking about?\x94 he asked, petulantly.

\x93I say that if there is someone at the Hotel de Sairmeuse named Camille,
I have the proof I desire. Come, Papa Absinthe, let us hurry on.\x94

And without another word of explanation, he dragged his companion
rapidly along.

When they reached the Rue de Grenelle, Lecoq saw a messenger leaning
against the door of a wine-shop. Lecoq called him.

\x93Come, my boy,\x94 said he; \x93I wish you to go to the Hotel de Sairmeuse and
ask for Camille. Tell her that her uncle is waiting her here.\x94

\x93But, sir----\x94

\x93What, you have not gone yet?\x94

The messenger departed; the two policemen entered the wine-shop, and
Father Absinthe had scarcely had time to swallow a glass of brandy when
the lad returned.

\x93Monsieur, I was unable to see Mademoiselle Camille. The house is closed
from top to bottom. The duchess died very suddenly this morning.\x94

\x93Ah! the wretch!\x94 exclaimed the young policeman.

Then, controlling himself, he mentally added:

\x93He must have killed his wife on returning home, but his fate is sealed.
Now, I shall be allowed to continue my investigations.\x94

In less than twenty minutes they arrived at the Palais de Justice.

M. Segmuller did not seem to be immoderately surprised at Lecoq\x92s
revelations. Still he listened with evident doubt to the young
policeman\x92s ingenious deductions; it was the circumstance of the
starling that seemed to decide him.

\x93Perhaps you are right, my dear Lecoq,\x94 he said, at last; \x93and to tell
the truth, I quite agree with you. But I can take no further action in
the matter until you can furnish proof so convincing in its nature that
the Duc de Sairmeuse will be unable to think of denying it.\x94

\x93Ah! sir, my superior officers will not allow me----\x94

\x93On the contrary,\x94 interrupted the judge, \x93they will allow you the
fullest liberty after I have spoken to them.\x94

Such action on the part of M. Segmuller required not a little courage.
There had been so much laughter about M. Segmuller\x92s _grand seigneur_,
disguised as a clown, that many men would have sacrificed their
convictions to the fear of ridicule.

\x93And when will you speak to them?\x94 inquired Lecoq, timidly.

\x93At once.\x94

The judge had already turned toward the door when the young policeman
stopped him.

\x93I have one more favor to ask, Monsieur,\x94 he said, entreatingly. \x93You
are so good; you are the first person who gave me any encouragement--who
had faith in me.\x94

\x93Speak, my brave fellow.\x94

\x93Ah! Monsieur, will you not give me a message for Monsieur d\x92Escorval?
Any insignificant message--inform him of the prisoner\x92s escape. I will
be the bearer of the message, and then--Oh! fear nothing, Monsieur; I
will be prudent.\x94

\x93Very well!\x94 replied the judge.

When he left the office of his chief, Lecoq was fully authorized to
proceed with his investigations, and in his pocket was a note for M.
d\x92Escorval from M. Segmuller. His joy was so intense that he did not
deign to notice the sneers which were bestowed upon him as he passed
through the corridors. On the threshold his enemy Gevrol, the so-called
general, was watching for him.

\x93Ah, ha!\x94 he laughed, as Lecoq passed out, \x93here is one of those
simpletons who fish for whales and do not catch even a gudgeon.\x94

For an instant Lecoq was angry. He turned abruptly and looked Gevrol
full in the face.

\x93That is better than assisting prisoners to carry on a surreptitious
correspondence with people outside,\x94 he retorted, in the tone of a man
who knows what he is saying.

In his surprise, Gevrol almost lost countenance, and his blush was
equivalent to a confession.

But Lecoq said no more. What did it matter to him now if Gevrol had
betrayed him! Was he not about to win a glorious revenge?

He spent the remainder of the day in preparing his plan of action,
and in thinking what he should say when he took M. Segmuller\x92s note to
Maurice d\x92Escorval.

The next morning about eleven o\x92clock he presented himself at the house
of M. d\x92Escorval.

\x93Monsieur is in his study with a young man,\x94 replied the servant; \x93but,
as he gave me no orders to the contrary, you may go in.\x94

Lecoq entered.

The study was unoccupied. But from the adjoining room, separated
from the study only by a velvet _portiere_, came a sound of stifled
exclamations, and of sobs mingled with kisses.

Not knowing whether to remain or retire, the young policeman stood for a
moment undecided; then he observed an open letter lying upon the carpet.

Impelled to do it by an impulse stronger than his own will, Lecoq picked
up the letter. It read as follows:


\x93The bearer of this letter is Marie-Anne\x92s son, Maurice--your son. I
have given him all the proofs necessary to establish his identity.
It was to his education that I consecrated the heritage of my poor
Marie-Anne.

\x93Those to whose care I confided him have made a noble man of him. If I
restore him to you, it is only because the life I lead is not a fitting
life for him. Yesterday, the miserable woman who murdered my sister died
from poison administered by her own hand. Poor Marie-Anne! she would
have been far more terribly avenged had not an accident which happened
to me, saved the Duc and the Duchesse de Sairmeuse from the snare into
which I had drawn them.

\x93Jean Lacheneur.\x94


Lecoq stood as if petrified.

Now he understood the terrible drama which had been enacted in the Widow
Chupin\x92s cabin.

\x93I must go to Sairmeuse at once,\x94 he said to himself; \x93there I can
discover all.\x94

He departed without seeing M. d\x92Escorval. He resisted the temptation to
take the letter with him.

It was exactly one month to a day after the death of Mme. Blanche.

Reclining upon a divan in his library the Duc de Sairmeuse was engaged
in reading, when Otto, his _valet de chambre_, came to inform him that a
messenger was below, charged with delivering into the duke\x92s own hands a
letter from M. Maurice d\x92Escorval.

With a bound, Martial was on his feet.

\x93Is it possible?\x94 he exclaimed.

Then he added, quickly:

\x93Let the messenger enter.\x94

A large man, with a very florid complexion, and red hair and beard,
timidly handed the duke a letter, he broke the seal, and read:


\x93I saved you, Monsieur, by not recognizing the prisoner, May. In your
turn, aid me! By noon, day after to-morrow, I must have two hundred and
sixty thousand francs.

\x93I have sufficient confidence in your honor to apply to you.

\x93Maurice d\x92Escorval.\x94


For a moment Martial stood bewildered, then, springing to a table, he
began writing, without noticing that the messenger was looking over his
shoulder:


\x93Monsieur--Not day after to-morrow, but this evening. My fortune and my
life are at your disposal. It is but a slight return for the generosity
you showed in retiring, when, beneath the rags of May, you recognized
your former enemy, now your devoted friend,

\x93Martial de Sairmeuse.\x94


He folded this letter with a feverish hand, and giving it to the
messenger with a louis, he said:

\x93Here is the answer, make haste!\x94

But the messenger did not go.

He slipped the letter into his pocket, then with a hasty movement he
cast his red beard and wig upon the floor.

\x93Lecoq!\x94 exclaimed Martial, paler than death.

\x93Lecoq, yes, Monsieur,\x94 replied the young detective. \x93I was obliged to
take my revenge; my future depended upon it, and I ventured to imitate
Monsieur d\x92Escorval\x92s writing.\x94

And as Martial made no response:

\x93I must also say to Monsieur le Duc,\x94 he continued, \x93that on
transmitting to the judge the confession written by the Duke\x92s own hand,
of his presence at the Poivriere, I can and shall, at the same time,
furnish proofs of his entire innocence.\x94

And to show that he was ignorant of nothing, he added:

\x93As madame is dead, there will be nothing said in regard to what took
place at the Borderie.\x94

A week later a verdict of not guilty was rendered by M. Segmuller in the
case of the Duc de Sairmeuse.

Appointed to the position he coveted, Lecoq had the good taste, or
perhaps the shrewdness, to wear his honors modestly.

But on the day of his promotion, he ordered a seal, upon which was
engraved the exultant rooster, which he had chosen as his armorial
design, and a motto to which he ever remained faithful: _Semper
Vigilan_.





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