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’s 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’clock sounded. The rolling of the drum made the panes of the only window tremble. A loud voice outside shouted, “Present arms!” 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.
“The session is open!” pronounced the Duc de Sairmeuse, the president.
Then, in a rough voice, he added:
“Bring in the culprits.”
He had not even the grace to say “the accused.”
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’Escorval 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:
“Have confidence in me — fear nothing.”
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:
The prisoner rose.
“Your name and age?”
“Eugene Michel Chanlouineau, aged twenty-nine, farmer by occupation.”
“An owner of national lands, probably?”
“The owner of lands which, having been paid for with good money and made fertile by labor, are rightfully mine.”
The duke did not wish to waste time on discussion.
“You have taken part in this rebellion?” he pursued.
“You are right in avowing it, for witnesses will be introduced who will prove this fact conclusively.”
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’s 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.
“That is sufficient,” interrupted the president.
Then turning to Chanlouineau:
“What were your motives?” he inquired.
“We 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.”
“Enough! You were one of the leaders of the revolt?”
“One of the leaders — yes.”
“Who were the others?”
A faint smile flitted over the lips of the young farmer, as he replied:
“The others were Monsieur Lacheneur, his son Jean, and the Marquis de Sairmeuse.”
The duke bounded from his gilded arm-chair.
“Wretch!” he exclaimed, “rascal! vile scoundrel!”
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’s head.
Chanlouineau stood perfectly unmoved in the midst of the assembly, which was excited to the highest pitch by his startling declaration.
“You questioned me,” he resumed, “and 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?”
With the exception of Baron d’Escorval, there was not one prisoner who was capable of understanding the real bearing of these audacious allegations; but all, nevertheless, nodded their assent.
“The Marquis de Sairmeuse was so truly our leader,” exclaimed the daring peasant, “that he was wounded by a sabre-thrust while fighting by my side.”
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.
“You lie, scoundrel! you lie!” he gasped.
“Send for the marquis,” said Chanlouineau, tranquilly, “and see whether or not he is wounded.”
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.
“I hope, Monsieur, that you will not give this arrogant rebel the satisfaction he desires. The commission opposes his demand.”
Chanlouineau laughed loudly.
“Very naturally,” he exclaimed. “To-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.”
“What is the proof?” demanded another judge, upon whom the duke looked askance.
The prisoner shook his head.
“I will give it to you when you offer me my life in exchange for it,” he replied. “It 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.”
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: “vae victis.”
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.
“Instead of designating imaginary leaders,” resumed the duke, “you 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’Escorval ——”
“Monsieur le Baron d’Escorval was entirely ignorant of the conspiracy, I swear it by all that I hold most sacred ——”
“Hold your tongue!” interrupted the counsel for the prosecution. “Instead of wearying the patience of the commission by such ridiculous stories, try to merit its indulgence.”
Chanlouineau’s glance and gesture expressed such disdain that the man who interrupted him was abashed.
“I wish no indulgence,” he said. “I 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!”
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.
“That one is a man!” they were thinking.
The abbe leaned over and whispered in the ear of Maurice:
“Evidently Chanlouineau has some plan. He intends to save your father. How, I cannot understand.”
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:
“Will you undertake this culprit’s defence?” 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.
“We are all disposed to undertake the prisoner’s defence,” at last replied the eldest of the three; “but 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.”
“The court can grant you no delay,” interrupted M. de Sairmeuse; “will you accept the defence, yes or no?”
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.
“I will speak in his behalf,” said the advocate, at last, “but not without first protesting with all my strength against these unheard-of modes of procedure.”
“Oh! spare us your homilies, and be brief.”
After Chanlouineau’s 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.
“The plea was very long,” he remarked, when the lawyer had concluded, “terribly long. We shall never get through with this business if each prisoner takes up as much time!”
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’Escorval.
“This will shorten our task, for, in case we adopt this course, there will be but two judgments to be pronounced,” he said. “This will not, of course, prevent each individual from defending himself.”
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.
“How can we defend them,” the lawyers pleaded, “when 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.”
They implored the tribunal to grant them a week for preparation, four days, even twenty-four hours. Futile efforts! The president’s 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’Escorval, whose case had been separated from the others, was not summoned to the desk. He would be interrogated last.
“Now the counsel for the defence will be heard,” said the duke; “but make haste; lose no time! It is already twelve o’clock.”
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.
“It seems incredible,” said he, “that anyone can think of defending such wretches!”
“Silence! You should blush with shame for having constituted yourself the defender of such rascals!”
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:
“Prisoner Escorval, stand up.”
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’s 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.
“Remain seated,” ordered the duke, “or you shall be removed from the court-room.”
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:
“Whatever happens, watch over Maurice; restrain him. Do not allow him to defeat my plans by any outbreak.”
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.
“Where is the self-control you promised me?” murmured the priest.
But no one observed the young man’s 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.
“Which of you,” demanded M. de Sairmeuse, “will consent to defend this great culprit?”
“I!” exclaimed three advocates, in a breath.
“Take care,” said the duke, with a malicious smile; “the task is not light.”
“Not light!” 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.
“Our profession has its exigencies,” 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.
“Prisoner,” resumed M. de Sairmeuse, “state your name and profession.”
“Louis Guillaume, Baron d’Escorval, Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honor, formerly Councillor of State under the Empire.”
“So you avow these shameful services? You confess ——”
“Pardon, Monsieur; I am proud of having had the honor of serving my country, and of being useful to her in proportion to my ability ——”
With a furious gesture the duke interrupted him.
“That is excellent!” he exclaimed. “These 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!”
“These 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.”
“You were arrested in the ranks of the conspirators with weapons in your hands!”
“I 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.”
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.
“The Baron d’Escorval speaks the truth,” he cried, in a ringing voice; “the 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!”
The duke listened with an ironical smile.
“They 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!”
The counsel for the prisoner sprang up.
“We demand,” they cried, “that this witness be heard. He must be heard! Military commissions are not above the laws that regulate ordinary tribunals.”
“If I do not speak the truth,” resumed the abbe, “I am a perjured witness, worse yet, an accomplice. It is your duty, in that case, to have me arrested.”
The duke’s face expressed a hypocritical compassion.
“No, Monsieur le Cure,” said he, “I 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.”
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.
“Ah! you wish testimony!” he exclaimed. “Very well, you shall have it. Soldiers, bring in the first witness.”
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.
“What do you know regarding the prisoner d’Escorval?” demanded the duke.
“I know that he took part in the rebellion on the night of the fourth.”
“Are you sure of this?”
“I can furnish proofs.”
“Submit them to the consideration of the commission.”
The old scoundrel began to gain more confidence.
“First,” he replied, “it was to the house of Monsieur d’Escorval that Lacheneur hastened after he had, much against his will, restored to Monsieur le Duc the chateau of Monsieur le Duc’s ancestors. Monsieur Lacheneur met Chanlouineau there, and from that day dates the plot of this insurrection.”
“I was Lacheneur’s friend,” said the baron; “it was perfectly natural that he should come to me for consolation after a great misfortune.”
M. de Sairmeuse turned to his colleague.
“You hear that!” said he. “This d’Escorval calls the restitution of a deposit a great misfortune! Go on, witness.”
“In the second place,” resumed Chupin, “the accused was always prowling about Lacheneur’s house.”
“That is false,” interrupted the baron. “I never visited the house but once, and on that occasion I implored him to renounce.”
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:
“I implored him to renounce this project of an insurrection.”
“Ah! then you knew his wicked intentions?”
“I suspected them.”
“Not to reveal a conspiracy makes one an accomplice, and means the guillotine.”
Baron d’Escorval 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.
“Ah, well! Messieurs?” 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.
“Say at once that you wish still more overwhelming evidence,” interrupted the duke. “Very well! You shall have it. Continue your deposition, witness.”
“The accused,” continued Chupin, “was present at all the conferences held at Lacheneur’s 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.”
“Ah! that is a remarkable circumstance, prisoner; do you recollect having your boat repaired?”
“Yes; but not for the purpose which this man mentions.”
“For what purpose, then?”
The baron made no response. Was it not in compliance with the request of Maurice that the boat had been put in order?
“And finally,” continued Chupin, “when Lacheneur set fire to his house to give the signal for the insurrection, the prisoner was with him.”
“That,” exclaimed the duke, “is conclusive evidence.”
“I was, indeed, at the Reche,” interrupted the baron; “but it was, as I have already told you, with the firm determination of preventing this outbreak.”
M. de Sairmeuse gave utterance to a little disdainful laugh.
“Ah, gentlemen!” he said, addressing the commissioners, “can you not see that the prisoner’s courage does not equal his depravity? But I will confound him. What did you do, prisoner, when the insurgents left the Reche?”
“I returned to my home with all possible haste, took a horse and repaired to the Croix d’Arcy.”
“Then you knew that this was the spot appointed for the general rendezvous?”
“Lacheneur had just informed me.”
“If 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.”
“No, Monsieur, no!”
“And what if I could prove this fact beyond all question?”
“Impossible, Monsieur, since such was not the case.”
By the malicious satisfaction that lighted M. de Sairmeuse’s face, the abbe knew that this wicked judge had some terrible weapon in his hands, and that Baron d’Escorval 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.
“I must request you, Monsieur le Marquis,” said the duke, “to have the goodness to read to the commission the deposition written and signed by your daughter.”
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:
“I, Blanche de Courtornieu, do declare upon oath that, on the evening of the fourth of February, between ten and eleven o’clock, 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: ‘She must get out, must she not, Monsieur d’Escorval?’ I believe that the brigand who uttered these words was a peasant named Chanlouineau, but I dare not assert it on oath.”
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:
“It was I who addressed those words to Chanlouineau. I alone am guilty; my father is innocent!”
But fortunately the abbe had the presence of mind to hold him back, and place his hand over the poor youth’s 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.
“What is the cause of this disturbance?” inquired the duke, looking angrily over the audience.
No one uttered a word.
“At the least noise the hall shall be cleared,” added M. de Sairmeuse. “And you, prisoner, what have you to say in self-justification, after this crushing accusation by Mademoiselle de Courtornieu?”
“Nothing,” murmured the baron.
“So you confess your guilt?”
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’s 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’Escorval 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:
“Now speak, since it is absolutely necessary; but no long phrases! We should have finished here an hour ago.”
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.
“Do not try to defend me,” he said, calmly; “it 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: ‘The scaffold does not make friends.’”
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’ imprisonment.
As the advocates made no further attempt to argue the case, the commission retired to deliberate. This gave M. d’Escorval 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:
“I 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!”
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’Escorval and Chanlouineau were among the number, were condemned to death.
But the smile had not once forsaken Chanlouineau’s lips.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54