“Do not speak ill of Chupin, Marquis; he is a very useful man. Had it not been for him, we should have been taken unawares. It was through him that I learned of this vast conspiracy organized by Lacheneur——”
“What! is it Lacheneur—”
“Who is at the head of the movement? yes, Marquis. Ah! your usual discernment has failed you in this instance. What, you have been a constant visitor at this house, and you have suspected nothing? And you contemplate a diplomatic career! But this is not all. You know now for what purpose the money which you so lavishly bestowed upon them has been employed. They have used it to purchase guns, powder, and ammunition.”
The duke had become satisfied of the injustice of his suspicions; but he was now endeavoring to irritate his son.
It was a fruitless effort. Martial knew very well that he had been duped, but he did not think of resenting it.
“If Lacheneur has been captured,” he thought; “if he should be condemned to death and if I should save him, Marie-Anne would refuse me nothing.”
Having penetrated the mystery that enveloped his son’s frequent absence, the Baron d’Escorval had concealed his fears and his chagrin from his wife.
It was the first time that he had ever had a secret from the faithful and courageous companion of his existence.
Without warning her, he went to beg Abbe Midon to follow him to the Reche, to the house of M. Lacheneur.
The silence, on his part, explains Mme. d’Escorval’s astonishment when, on the arrival of the dinner-hour, neither her son nor her husband appeared.
Maurice was sometimes late; but the baron, like all great workers, was punctuality itself. What extraordinary thing could have happened?
Her surprise became uneasiness when she learned that her husband had departed in company with Abbe Midon. They had harnessed the horse themselves, and instead of driving through the court-yard as usual, they had driven through the stable-yard into a lane leading to the public road.
What did all this mean? Why these strange precautions?
Mme. d’Escorval waited, oppressed by vague forebodings.
The servants shared her anxiety. The baron was so equable in temper, so kind and just to his inferiors, that his servants adored him, and would have gone through a fiery furnace for him.
So, about ten o’clock, they hastened to lead to their mistress a peasant who was returning from Sairmeuse.
This man, who was slightly intoxicated, told the strangest and most incredible stories.
He said that all the peasantry for ten leagues around were under arms, and that the Baron d’Escorval was the leader of the revolt.
He did not doubt the final success of the movement, declaring that Napoleon II., Marie-Louise, and all the marshals of the Empire were concealed in Montaignac.