He had bathed his red and swollen eyes in fresh water, and was prepared to start on his expedition, when someone rapped cautiously at the door of the chamber.
Maurice cried: “Come in,” and M. Laugeron instantly entered the room.
His face announced some dreadful misfortune; and the worthy man was really terrified. He had just learned that the military commission had been organized.
In contempt of all human laws and the commonest rules of justice, the presidency of this tribunal of vengeance and of hatred had been bestowed upon the Duc de Sairmeuse.
And he had accepted it—he who was at the same time to play the part of participant, witness, and judge.
The other members of the commission were military men.
“And when does the commission enter upon its functions?” inquired the abbe.
“To-day,” replied the host, hesitatingly; “this morning—in an hour—perhaps sooner!”
The abbe understood what M. Laugeron meant, but dared not say: “The commission is assembling, make haste.”
“Come!” he said to Maurice, “I wish to be present when your father is examined.”
Ah! what would not the baroness have given to follow the priest and her son? But she could not; she understood this, and submitted.
They set out, and as they stepped into the street they saw a soldier a little way from them, who made a friendly gesture.
They recognized Corporal Bavois, and paused.
But he, passing them with an air of the utmost indifference, and apparently without observing them, hastily dropped these words:
“I have seen Chanlouineau. Be of good cheer; he promises to save Monsieur d’Escorval!”
In the citadel of Montaignac, within the second line of fortifications, stands an old building known as the chapel.
Originally consecrated to worship, the structure had, at the time of which we write, fallen into disuse. It was so damp that it would not even serve as an arsenal for an artillery regiment, for the guns rusted there more quickly than in the open air. A black mould covered the walls to a height of six or seven feet.
This was the place selected by the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu for the assembling of the military commission.
On first entering it, Maurice and the abbe felt a cold chill strike to their very hearts; and an indefinable anxiety paralyzed all their faculties.
But the commission had not yet commenced its seance; and they had time to look about them.
The arrangements which had been made in transforming this gloomy hall into a tribunal, attested the precipitancy of the judges and their determination to finish their work promptly and mercilessly.
The arrangements denoted an absence of all form; and one could divine at once the frightful certainty of the result.