“The two hours have passed,” said the officer when Francoise appeared.
Pere Merlier was there, seated upon the bench beside the well. He was smoking. The young girl again begged, wept, sank on her knees. She wished to gain time. The hope of seeing the French return had increased in her, and while lamenting she thought she heard in the distance, the measured tramp of an army. Oh, if they would come, if they would deliver them all?
“Listen, monsieur,” she said: “an hour, another hour; you can grant us another hour!”
But the officer remained inflexible. He even ordered two men to seize her and take her away, that they might quietly proceed with the execution of the old man. Then a frightful struggle took place in Francoise’s heart. She could not allow her father to be thus assassinated. No, no; she would die rather with Dominique. She was running toward her chamber when Dominique himself entered the courtyard.
The officer and the soldiers uttered a shout of triumph. But the young man, calmly, with a somewhat severe look, went up to Francoise, as if she had been the only person present.
“You did wrong,” he said. “Why did you not bring me back? It remained for Pere Bontemps to tell me everything. But I am here!”
THE RETURN OF THE FRENCH
It was three o’clock in the afternoon. Great black clouds, the trail of some neighboring storm, had slowly filled the sky. The yellow heavens, the brass covered uniforms, had changed the valley of Rocreuse, so gay in the sunlight, into a den of cutthroats full of sinister gloom. The Prussian officer had contented himself with causing Dominique to be imprisoned without announcing what fate he reserved for him. Since noon Francoise had been torn by terrible anguish. Despite her father’s entreaties she would not quit the courtyard. She was awaiting the French. But the hours sped on; night was approaching, and she suffered the more as all the time gained did not seem to be likely to change the frightful denouement.
About three o’clock the Prussians made their preparations for departure. For an instant past the officer had, as on the previous day, shut himself up with Dominique. Francoise realized that the young man’s life was in balance. She clasped her hands; she prayed. Pere Merlier, beside her, maintained silence and the rigid attitude of an old peasant who does not struggle against fate.
“Oh, Mon dieu! Oh, Mon dieu!” murmured Francoise. “They are going to kill him!”
The miller drew her to him and took her on his knees as if she had been a child.
At that moment the officer came out, while behind him two men brought Dominique.
“Never! Never!” cried the latter. “I am ready to die!”
“Think well,” resumed the officer. “The service you refuse me another will render us. I am generous: I offer you your life. I want you simply to guide us through the forest to Montredon. There must be pathways leading there.”