“I do not know, Madame,” she replied; “but duty commands me to go. I must learn what has become of my father and my brother, and share their fate.”
“What!” exclaimed Maurice; “still this thought of death. You, who no longer——”
He paused; a secret which was not his own had almost escaped his lips. But visited by a sudden inspiration, he threw himself at his mother’s feet.
“Oh, my mother! my dearest mother, do not allow her to depart. I may perish in my attempt to save my father. She will be your daughter then—she whom I have loved so much. You will encircle her with your tender and protecting love——”
The secret which approaching death had wrestled from Marie-Anne in the fortification at the Croix d’Arcy, Mme. d’Escorval was ignorant of when she joined her entreaties to those of her son to induce the unfortunate girl to remain.
But the fact occasioned Maurice scarcely an uneasiness.
His faith in his mother was complete, absolute; he was sure that she would forgive when she learned the truth.
Loving and chaste wives and mothers are always most indulgent to those who have been led astray by the voice of passion.
Such noble women can, with impunity, despise and brave the prejudices of hypocrites.
These reflections made Maurice feel more tranquil in regard to Marie-Anne’s future, and he now thought only of his father.
Day was breaking; he declared that he would assume some disguise and go to Montaignac at once.
On hearing these words, Mme. d’Escorval turned and hid her face in the sofa-cushions to stifle her sobs.
She was trembling for her husband’s life, and now her son must precipitate himself into danger. Perhaps before the sun sank to rest, she would have neither husband nor son.
And yet she did not say “no.” She felt that Maurice was only fulfilling a sacred duty. She would have loved him less had she supposed him capable of cowardly hesitation. She would have dried her tears, if necessary, to bid him “go.”
Moreover, what was not preferable to the agony of suspense which they had been enduring for hours?
Maurice had reached the door when the abbe stopped him.
“You must go to Montaignac,” said he, “but it would be folly to disguise yourself. You would certainly be recognized, and the saying: ’He who conceals himself is guilty,’ will assuredly be applied to you. You must go openly, with head erect, and you must even exaggerate the assurance of innocence. Go straight to the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu. I will accompany you; we will go in the carriage.”
Maurice seemed undecided.
“Obey these counsels, my son,” said Mme. d’Escorval; “the abbe knows much better than we do what is best.”