“I swear to you by the sacred memory of my mother, I will be in a convent to-morrow, and you will never see me again in your life, not even if I should die, which would certainly soon”—
M. de Chandore, raising his hands to heaven, and with an accent of genuine despair, exclaimed,—
“Ah, my God! Are these our children? And is this what is in store for us old people? We have spent a lifetime in watching over them; we have submissively gratified all their fancies; they have been our greatest anxiety, and our sweetest hope; we have given them our life day by day, and we would not hesitate to give them our life’s blood drop by drop; they are every thing to us, and we imagine they love us—poor fools that we are! One fine day, a man goes by, a careless, thoughtless man, with a bright eye and a ready tongue, and it is all over. Our child is no longer our own; our child no longer knows us. Go, old man, and die in your corner.”
Overwhelmed by his grief, the old man staggered and sank into a chair, as an old oak, cut by the woodman’s axe, trembles and falls.
“Ah, this is fearful!” murmured Dionysia. “What you say, grandpapa, is too fearful. How can you doubt me?”
She had knelt down. She was weeping; and her hot tears fell upon the old gentleman’s hands. He started up as he felt them on his icy-cold hand; and, making one more effort, he said,—
“Poor, poor child! And suppose Jacques is guilty, and, when he sees you, confesses his crime, what then?”
Dionysia shook her head.
“That is impossible,” she said; “and still, even if it were so, I ought to be punished as much as he is; for I know, if he had asked me, I should have acted in concert with him.”
“She is mad!” exclaimed M. de Chandore, falling back into his chair. “She is mad!”
But he was overcome; and the next day, at five in the afternoon, his heart torn by unspeakable grief, he went down the steep street with his daughter on his arm. Dionysia had chosen her simplest and plainest dress; and the little bag she carried on her arm contained not sixteen but twenty thousand francs. As a matter of course, it had been necessary to take the marchioness into their confidence; but neither she, nor the Misses Lavarande, nor M. Folgat, had raised an objection. Down to the prison, grandfather and grandchild had not exchanged a word; but, when they reached it, Dionysia said,—
“I see Mrs. Blangin at the door: let us be careful.”
They came nearer. Mrs. Blangin saluted them.
“Come, it is time,” said the young girl. “Till to-morrow, dear papa! Go home quickly, and be not troubled about me.”
Then joining the keeper’s wife, she disappeared inside the prison.
The prison of Sauveterre is in the castle at the upper end of town, in a poor and almost deserted suburb. This castle, once upon a time of great importance, had been dismantled at the time of the siege of Rochelle; and all that remains are a few badly-repaired ruins, ramparts with fosses that have been filled up, a gate surmounted by a small belfry, a chapel converted into a magazine, and finally two huge towers connected by an immense building, the lower rooms in which are vaulted.