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.
“Mille tonnerres!” he exclaimed; “and 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.”
He reflected for a moment, twirling his mustache furiously; then, in a tone that would have made a passerby tremble, he said:
“All things are fair in love and war. The next peasant who passes —”
“But I have money,” interrupted Maurice, unbuckling a belt filled with gold, which he had put on under his clothing on the night of the revolt.
“Eh! we are fortunate!” cried Bavois. “Give me some, and I will soon find some shop in the suburbs where I can purchase a change of clothing.” He departed; but it was not long before he reappeared, transformed by a peasant’s costume, which fitted him perfectly. His small, thin face was almost hidden beneath an immense broad-brimmed hat.
“Now, steady, forward, march!” 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’s 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.
“My name is Dubois,” replied Maurice, without the slightest hesitation. “I am travelling on business, and this man here is my farmer.”
These replies seemed to reassure the host a little.
“And what is your business?” he inquired.
“I came into this land of inquisitive people to buy mules,” 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.
“You will excuse me,” resumed the host, in quite a different tone. “You see, we are obliged to be very careful. There has been some trouble in Montaignac.”
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.
“We are too near the frontier to bivouac here,” he grumbled. “As soon as the young lady is on her feet again we must hurry on.”
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’s Rest.
It was not until the evening of the third day that they heard Marie-Anne utter a word.
“Poor girl!” she sighed; “poor, wretched girl!”
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:
“You will read this when I am no more.”
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:
“My dress,” she said to the old nurse, seated beside her; “give me my dress.”
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.
“What is the matter?” he inquired anxiously.
She handed him the letter, saying: “Read.”
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:
“Marie-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’Escorval.
“But 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?
“The thought has haunted me continually. I have reflected, and this
is my last will:
“I give and bequeath to you all my property, all that I possess:
“My house, the Borderie, with the gardens and vineyards pertaining
thereto, the woodland and the pastures of Berarde, and five lots
of land at Valrollier.
“You will find an inventory of this property, and of my other
possessions which I devise to you, deposited with the lawyer at
“You can accept this bequest without fear; for, having no parents,
my control over my property is absolute.
“If you do not wish to remain in France, this property will sell
for at least forty thousand francs.
“But 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
“Upstairs 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’or and one hundred and forty-six livres.
“If 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
“If 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!
“Besides, he knows well that you have scarcely vouchsafed a glance
to the poor peasant who has loved you so much.
“Do not be offended at anything I have said, I am in such agony
that I cannot weigh my words.
“Adieu, adieu, Marie-Anne.
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:
“You cannot refuse; it would be wrong.”
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’Arcy, had wrested Baron d’Escorval 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’s 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’s 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.
“Is this young lady really your wife, Monsieur — Dubois?”
He hesitated so strangely over this name, Dubois, that Maurice felt his face crimson to the roots of his hair.
“I do not understand your question,” he retorted, angrily.
“I 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.”
From crimson Maurice had turned white. He felt that he was discovered — that he was in this man’s 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:
“You are not mistaken, Monsieur. My friend and myself both are fugitives, undoubtedly condemned to death in France at this moment.”
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.
“It is just as I supposed,” said he. “Believe 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.”
“Ah! sir, but how is it possible for us to leave this place?”
“In two days the young lady will be on her feet again,” interrupted the physician. “And take my advice. At the next village, stop and give your name to Mademoiselle Lacheneur.”
“Ah! sir,” Maurice exclaimed; “have 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?”
The physician shook his head.
“Excuse me, you are no longer in France, Monsieur d’Escorval, you are in Piedmont.”
“No, because in this country, people marry, or at least they can marry, without all the formalities that cause you so much anxiety.”
“Is it possible?” Maurice exclaimed.
“Yes, 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.”
To suspect the truth of these affirmations was difficult, and yet Maurice doubted still.
“So, sir,” he said, hesitatingly, “in case I was able to find a priest ——”
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:
“Listen to me attentively, Monsieur d’Escorval. 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?”
“Oh, yes, yes, Monsieur. How can I ever thank you?”
“By not thanking me at all. See, here is the innkeeper; you are Monsieur Dubois, again.”
Maurice was intoxicated with joy. He understood the irregularity of such a marriage, but he knew it would reassure Marie-Anne’s 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’Escorval 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.
“It is a large city,” he said; “you 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.”
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.
“Fate seems to have relaxed her rigor,” said Maurice, one day. “Who knows what compensations the future may have in store for us!”
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:
“Here! Maurice! Look!”
It was a French journal about a fortnight old, which had probably been left there by some traveller.
Maurice seized it and read:
“Yesterday, 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.”
“My father has been put to death!” cried Marie-Anne, “and I— his daughter — was not there to receive his last farewell!”
She rose, and in an imperious voice:
“I will go no farther,” she said; “we must turn back now without losing an instant. I wish to return to France.”
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’Escorval must have been discovered and arrested at the same time that Lacheneur was captured.
“Yes, let us start at once on our return!” 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.
“Our marriage certificate will not silence the evil disposed,” said he. “Let us keep our secret for the present. We shall doubtless remain in France only a few days.”
Unfortunately, Marie-Anne yielded.
“Since you wish it,” said she, “I will obey you. No one shall know it.”
The next day, which was the 14th of April, the fugitives at nightfall reached Father Poignot’s 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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08