“Above all, make haste!” 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’Escorval tore the letter rather than took it from his hands. She opened it, read it aloud to Marie-Anne, and merely said:
“Let us go — at once.”
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’s 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’Escorval 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.
“One moment!” said he. “I will arrange the matter.”
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’s complaisance.
His duties at the chateau were over, as M. d’Escorval 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’s end.
“And it will go hard with soldier or civilian who ventures to molest them, will it not, comrades?” he exclaimed.
As usual, the two men assented with an oath.
So, as they pursued their journey, Mme. d’Escorval 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’Escorval 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:
“Montaignac 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
Only six lines in all — but each word was a menace.
That which filled the abbe’s 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.
“What!” exclaimed Maurice, “they dare to condemn without investigating, without listening to testimony, without allowing the accused time to prepare any defence?”
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’s 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’s 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 acompanied them: “Keep this one until another time,” or, “This one for to-morrow.”
By daylight, they had thirty names upon their list: and the names of the Baron d’Escorval 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’s 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: “Come in,” 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.
“And when does the commission enter upon its functions?” inquired the abbe.
“To-day,” replied the host, hesitatingly; “this morning — in an hour — perhaps sooner!”
The abbe understood what M. Laugeron meant, but dared not say: “The commission is assembling, make haste.”
“Come!” he said to Maurice, “I wish to be present when your father is examined.”
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:
“I have seen Chanlouineau. Be of good cheer; he promises to save Monsieur d’Escorval!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54