“Well, my brave friend,” said Coconnas to La Mole, when the two were together after the examination, at which, for the first time, the subject of the waxen image had been discussed, “it seems to me that everything is going on finely, and that it will not be long before the judges will dismiss us. And this diagnosis is entirely different from that of a dismissal by physicians. When the doctor gives up the patient it is because he cannot cure him, but when the judge gives up the accused it is because he has no further hope of having him beheaded.”
“Yes,” said La Mole; “and moreover, it seems to me, from the politeness and gentleness of the jailer and the looseness of the doors, that I recognize our kind friends; but I do not recognize Monsieur de Beaulieu, at least from what I had been told of him.”
“I recognize him,” said Coconnas; “only it will cost dearly. But one is a princess, the other a queen; both are rich, and they will never have so good an opportunity to use their money. Now let us go over our lesson. We are to be taken to the chapel, and left there in charge of our turnkey; we shall each find a dagger in the spot indicated. I am to make a hole in the body of our guide.”
“Yes, but a slight one in the arm; otherwise you will rob him of his five hundred crowns.”
“Ah, no; not in the arm, for in that case he would have to lose it, and it would be easy to see that it was given intentionally. No, it must be in his right side, gliding skilfully along his ribs; that would look natural, but in reality would be harmless.”
“Well, aim for that, and then”—
“Then you will barricade the front door with benches while our two princesses rush from behind the altar, where they are to be hidden, and Henriette opens the vestry door. Ah, faith, how I love Henriette today! She must have been faithless to me in some way for me to feel as I do.”
“And then,” said La Mole, with the trembling voice which falls from lips like music, “then we shall reach the forest. A kiss given to each of us will make us strong and happy. Can you not picture us, Annibal, bending over our swift horses, our hearts gently oppressed? Oh, what a good thing is fear! Fear in the open air when one has one’s naked sword at one’s side, when one cries ‘hurra’ to the courser pricked by the spur, and which at each shout speeds the faster.”
“Yes,” said Coconnas, “but fear within four walls — what do you say to that, La Mole? I can speak of it, for I have felt something of it. When Beaulieu, with his pale face, entered my cell for the first time, behind him in the darkness shone halberds, and I heard a sinister sound of iron striking against iron. I swear to you I immediately thought of the Duc d’Alençon, and I expected to see his ugly face between the two hateful heads of the halberdiers. I was mistaken, however, and this was my sole consolation. But that was not all; night came, and I dreamed.”
“So,” said La Mole, who had been following his happy train of thought without paying attention to his friend, “so they have foreseen everything, even the place in which we are to hide. We shall go to Lorraine, dear friend. In reality I should rather have had it Navarre, for there I should have been with her, but Navarre is too far; Nancey would be better; besides, once there, we should be only eighty leagues from Paris. Have you any feeling of regret, Annibal, at leaving this place?”
“Ah, no! the idea! Although I confess I am leaving everything that belongs to me.”
“Well, could we manage to take the worthy jailer with us instead of”—
“He would not go,” said Coconnas, “he would lose too much. Think of it! five hundred crowns from us, a reward from the government; promotion, perhaps; how happy will be that fellow’s life when I shall have killed him! But what is the matter?”
“Nothing! An idea came to me.”
“It is not a funny one, apparently, for you are frightfully pale.”
“I was wondering why they should take us to the chapel.”
“Why,” said Coconnas, “to receive the sacrament. This is the time for it, I think.”
“But,” said La Mole, “they take only those condemned to death or the torture to the chapel.”
“Oh!” said Coconnas, becoming somewhat pale in turn, “this deserves our attention. Let us question the good man whom I am to split open. Here, turnkey!”
“Did monsieur call?” asked the jailer, who had been keeping watch at the top of the stairs.
“Yes; come here.”
“It has been arranged that we are to escape from the chapel, has it not?”
“Hush!” said the turnkey, looking round him in terror.
“Do not worry; no one can hear us.”
“Yes, monsieur; it is from the chapel.”
“They are to take us to the chapel, then?”
“Yes; that is the custom.”
“Yes; it is customary to allow every one condemned to death to pass the night in the chapel.”
Coconnas and La Mole shuddered and glanced at each other.
“You think we are condemned to death, then?”
“Certainly. You, too, must think so.”
“Why should we think so?” asked La Mole.
“Certainly; otherwise you would not have arranged everything for your escape.”
“Do you know, there is reason in what he says!” said Coconnas to La Mole.
“Yes; and what I know besides is that we are playing a close game, apparently.”
“But do you think I am risking nothing?” said the turnkey. “If in a moment of excitement monsieur should make a mistake”—
“Well! by Heaven! I wish I were in your place,” said Coconnas, slowly, “and had to deal with no hand but this; with no sword except the one which is to graze you.”
“Condemned to death!” murmured La Mole, “why, that is impossible!”
“Impossible!” said the turnkey, naïvely, “and why?”
“Hush!” said Coconnas, “I think some one is opening the lower door.”
“To your cells, gentlemen, to your cells!” cried the jailer, hurriedly.
“When do you think the trial will take place?” asked La Mole.
“To-morrow, or later. But be easy; those who must be informed shall be.”
“Then let us embrace each other and bid farewell to these walls.”
The two friends rushed into each other’s arms and then returned to their cells, La Mole sighing, Coconnas singing.
Nothing new happened until seven o’clock. Night fell dark and rainy over the prison of Vincennes, a perfect night for flight. The evening meal was brought to Coconnas, who ate with his usual appetite, thinking of the pleasure he would feel in being soaked in the rain, which was pattering against the walls, and already preparing himself to fall asleep to the dull, monotonous murmur of the wind, when suddenly it seemed to him that this wind, to which he occasionally listened with a feeling of melancholy never before experienced by him until he came to prison, whistled more strangely than usual under the doors, and that the stove roared with a louder noise than common. This had happened every time one of the cells above or opposite him was opened. It was by this noise that Annibal always knew the jailer was coming from La Mole’s cell.
But this time it was in vain that Coconnas remained with eye and ear alert.
The moments passed; no one came.
“This is strange,” said Coconnas, “La Mole’s door has been opened and not mine. Could La Mole have called? Can he be ill? What does it mean?”
With a prisoner everything is a cause for suspicion and anxiety, as everything is a cause for joy and hope.
Half an hour passed, then an hour, then an hour and a half.
Coconnas was beginning to grow sleepy from anger when the grating of the lock made him spring to his feet.
“Oh!” said he, “has the time come for us to leave and are they going to take us to the chapel without condemning us? By Heaven, what joy it would be to escape on such a night! It is as dark as an oven! I hope the horses are not blind.”
He was about to ask some jocular question of the turnkey when he saw the latter put his finger to his lips and roll his eyes significantly. Behind the jailer Coconnas heard sounds and perceived shadows.
Suddenly in the midst of the darkness he distinguished two helmets, on which the smoking candle threw a yellow light.
“Oh!” said he in a low voice, “what is this sinister procession? What is going to happen?”
The jailer replied by a sigh which greatly resembled a groan.
“By Heaven!” murmured Coconnas; “what a wretched existence! always on the ragged edge; never on firm land; either we paddle in a hundred feet of water or we hover above the clouds; never a happy medium. Well, where are we going?”
“Follow the halberdiers, monsieur,” repeated the same voice.
He had to obey. Coconnas left his room, and perceived the dark man whose voice had been so disagreeable. He was a clerk, small and hunchbacked, who no doubt had put on the gown in order to hide his bandy legs, as well as his back. He slowly descended the winding stairs. At the first landing the guards paused.
“That is a good deal to go down,” murmured Coconnas, “but not enough.”
The door opened. The prisoner had the eye of a lynx and the scent of a bloodhound. He scented the judges and saw in the shadow the silhouette of a man with bare arms; the latter sight made the perspiration mount to his brow. Nevertheless, he assumed his most smiling manner, and entered the room with his head tipped to one side, and his hand on his hip, after the most approved manner of the times.
A curtain was raised, and Coconnas perceived the judges and the clerks.
A few feet away La Mole was seated on a bench.
Coconnas was led to the front of the tribunal. Arrived there, he stopped, nodded and smiled to La Mole, and then waited.
“What is your name, monsieur?” inquired the president.
“Marcus Annibal de Coconnas,” replied the gentleman with perfect ease. “Count de Montpantier, Chenaux, and other places; but they are known, I presume.”
“Where were you born?”
“At Saint Colomban, near Suza.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-seven years and three months.”
“Good!” said the president.
“This pleases him, apparently,” said Coconnas.
“Now,” said the president after a moment’s silence which gave the clerk time to write down the answers of the accused; “what was your reason for leaving the service of Monsieur d’Alençon?”
“To rejoin my friend Monsieur de la Mole, who had already left the duke three days before.”
“What were you doing the day of the hunt, when you were arrested?”
“Why,” said Coconnas, “I was hunting.”
“The King was also present at that hunt, and was there seized with the first attack of the malady from which he is at present suffering.”
“I was not near the King, and I can say nothing about this. I was even ignorant of the fact that he had been ill.”
The judges looked at one another with a smile of incredulity.
“Ah! you were ignorant of his Majesty’s illness, were you?” said the president.
“Yes, monsieur, and I am sorry to hear of it. Although the King of France is not my king, I have a great deal of sympathy for him.”
“On my honor! It is different so far as his brother the Duc d’Alençon is concerned. The latter I confess”—
“We have nothing to do with the Duc d’Alençon, monsieur; this concerns his Majesty.”
“Well, I have already told you that I am his very humble servant,” said Coconnas, turning about in an adorably impudent fashion.
“If as you pretend, monsieur, you are really his servant, will you tell us what you know of a certain waxen figure?”
“Ah, good! we have come back to the figure, have we?”
“Yes, monsieur; does this displease you?”
“On the contrary, I prefer it; go ahead.”
“Why was this statue found in Monsieur de la Mole’s apartments?”
“At Monsieur de la Mole’s? At Réné‘s, you mean?”
“You acknowledge that it exists, then, do you?”
“Why, if you will show it to me.”
“Here it is. Is this the one you know?”
“Clerk,” said the president, “write down that the accused recognizes the image as the one seen at Monsieur de la Mole’s.”
“No, no!” said Coconnas, “do not let us misunderstand each other — as the one seen at Réné‘s.”
“At Réné‘s; very good! On what day?”
“The only day La Mole and myself were at Réné‘s.”
“You admit, then, that you were at Réné‘s with Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Why, did I ever deny it?”
“Clerk, write down that the accused admits having gone to Réné‘s to work conjurations.”
“Stop there, Monsieur le Président. Moderate your enthusiasm, I beg you. I did not say that at all.”
“You deny having been at Réné‘s to work conjurations?”
“I deny it. The magic took place by accident. It was unpremeditated.”
“But it took place?”
“I cannot deny that something resembling a charm did take place.”
“Clerk, write down that the accused admits that he obtained at Réné‘s a charm against the life of the King.”
“What! against the King’s life? That is an infamous lie! There was no charm obtained against the life of the King.”
“You see, gentlemen!” said La Mole.
“Silence!” said the president; then turning to the clerk: “Against the life of the King,” he continued. “Have you that?”
“Why, no, no!” cried Coconnas. “Besides, the figure is not that of a man, but of a woman.”
“What did I tell you, gentlemen?” said La Mole.
“Monsieur de la Mole,” said the president, “answer when you are questioned, but do not interrupt the examination of others.”
“So you say that it is a woman?”
“Certainly I say so.”
“In that case, why did it have a crown and a cloak?”
“By Heaven!” said Coconnas, “that is simple enough, because it was”—
La Mole rose and put his finger on his lips.
“That is so,” said Coconnas, “what was I going to say that could possibly concern these gentlemen?”
“You persist in stating that the figure is that of a woman?”
“Yes; certainly I persist.”
“And you refuse to say what woman?”
“A woman of my country,” said La Mole, “whom I loved and by whom I wished to be loved in return.”
“We are not asking you, Monsieur de la Mole,” said the president; “keep silent, therefore, or you shall be gagged.”
“Gagged!” exclaimed Coconnas; “what do you mean, monsieur of the black robe? My friend gagged? A gentleman! the idea!”
“Bring in Réné,” said the Attorney–General Laguesle.
“Yes; bring in Réné,” said Coconnas; “we shall see who is right here, we two or you three.”
Réné entered, pale, aged, and almost unrecognizable to the two friends, bowed under the weight of the crime he was about to commit much more than because of those he had already committed.
“Maître Réné,” said the judge, “do you recognize the two accused persons here present?”
“Yes, monsieur,” replied Réné, in a voice which betrayed his emotion.
“From having seen them where?”
“In several places; and especially at my house.”
“How many times did they go to your house?”
As Réné spoke the face of Coconnas expanded; La Mole’s, on the contrary, looked as though he had a presentiment of evil.
“For what purpose were they at your house?”
Réné seemed to hesitate a moment.
“To order me to make a waxen figure,” said he.
“Pardon me, Maître Réné,” said Coconnas, “you are making a slight mistake.”
“Silence!” said the president; then turning to Réné, “was this figure to be that of a man or a woman?”
“A man,” replied Réné.
Coconnas sprang up as if he had received an electric shock.
“A man!” he exclaimed.
“A man,” repeated Réné, but in so low a tone that the president scarcely heard him.
“Why did this figure of a man have on a mantle and a crown?”
“Because it represented a king.”
“Infamous liar!” cried Coconnas, infuriated.
“Keep still, Coconnas, keep still,” interrupted La Mole, “let the man speak; every one has a right to sell his own soul.”
“But not the bodies of others, by Heaven!”
“And what was the meaning of the needle in the heart of the figure, with the letter ‘M’ on a small banner?”
“The needle was emblematical of the sword or the dagger; the letter ‘M’ stands for mort.”
Coconnas sprang forward as though to strangle Réné, but four guards restrained him.
“That will do,” said the Attorney Laguesle, “the court is sufficiently informed. Take the prisoners to the waiting-room.”
“But,” exclaimed Coconnas, “it is impossible to hear one’s self accused of such things without protesting.”
“Protest, monsieur, no one will hinder you. Guards, did you hear?”
The guards seized the two prisoners and led them out, La Mole by one door, Coconnas by another.
Then the attorney signed to the man whom Coconnas had perceived in the shadow, and said to him:
“Do not go away, my good fellow, you shall have work this evening.”
“Which shall I begin with, monsieur?” asked the man, respectfully holding his cap in his hand.
“With that one,” said the president, pointing to La Mole, who could still be seen disappearing in the distance between the two guards. Then approaching Réné, who stood trembling, expecting to be led back to the cell in which he had been confined:
“You have spoken well, monsieur,” said he to him, “you need not worry. Both the King and the queen shall know that it is to you they are indebted for the truth of this affair.”
But instead of giving him strength, this promise seemed to terrify Réné, whose only answer was a deep sigh.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49