A shout of approval from two thousand throats replied:
They unfurled the tri-color, that much regretted flag that reminded them of so much glory, and so many great misfortunes; the drums began to beat, and with shouts of: “Vive Napoleon II.!” the whole column took up its line of march.
Pale, with clothing in disorder, and voices husky with fatigue and emotion, M. d’Escorval and the abbe followed the rebels, imploring them to listen to reason.
They saw the precipice toward which these misguided creatures were rushing, and they prayed God for an inspiration to check them.
In fifty minutes the distance separating the Croix d’Arcy from Montaignac is traversed.
Soon they see the gate of the citadel, which was to have been opened for them by their friends within the walls.
It is eleven o’clock, and yet this gate stands open.
Does not this circumstance prove that their friends are masters of the town, and that they are awaiting them in force?
They advance, so certain of success that those who have guns do not even take the trouble to load them.
M. d’Escorval and the abbe alone foresee the catastrophe.
The leader of the expedition is near them, they entreat him not to neglect the commonest precautions, they implore him to send some two men on in advance to reconnoitre; they, themselves, offer to go, on condition that the peasants will await their return before proceeding farther.
But their prayers are unheeded.
The peasants pass the outer line of fortifications in safety. The head of the advancing column reaches the drawbridge.
The enthusiasm amounts to delirium; who will be the first to enter is the only thought.
Alas! at that very moment a pistol is fired.
It is a signal, for instantly, and on every side, resounds a terrible fusillade.
Three or four peasants fall, mortally wounded. The rest pause, frozen with terror, thinking only of escape.
The indecision is terrible; but the leader encourages his men, there are a few of Napoleon’s old soldiers in the ranks. A struggle begins, all the more frightful by reason of the darkness!
But it is not the cry of “Forward!” that suddenly rends the air.
The voice of a coward sends up the cry of panic:
“We are betrayed! Let him save himself who can!”
This is the end of all order. A wild fear seizes the throng; and these men flee madly, despairingly, scattered as withered leaves are scattered by the power of the tempest.
Chupin’s stupefying revelations and the thought that Martial, the heir of his name and dukedom, should degrade himself so low as to enter into a conspiracy with vulgar peasants, drove the Duc de Sairmeuse nearly wild.
But the Marquis de Courtornieu’s coolness restored the duke’s sang-froid.