But the smile had not once forsaken Chanlouineau’s lips.
The abbe had been right in feeling he could trust the officers to whose care he had confided Maurice.
Finding their entreaties would not induce him to leave the citadel, they seized him and literally carried him away. He made the most desperate efforts to escape; each step was a struggle.
“Leave me!” he exclaimed; “let me go where duty calls me. You only dishonor me in pretending to save me.”
His agony was terrible. He had thrown himself headlong into this absurd undertaking, and now the responsibility of his acts had fallen upon his father. He, the culprit, would live, and his innocent father would perish on the guillotine. It was to this his love for Marie-Anne had led him, that radiant love which in other days had smiled so joyously.
But our capacity for suffering has its limits.
When they had carried him to the room in the hotel where his mother and Marie-Anne were waiting in agonized surprise, that irresistible torpor which follows suffering too intense for human endurance, crept over him.
“Nothing is decided yet,” the officers answered in response to Mme. d’Escorval’s questions. “The cure will hasten here as soon as the verdict is rendered.”
Then, as they had promised not to lose sight of Maurice, they seated themselves in gloomy silence.
The house was silent. One might have supposed the hotel deserted. At last, a little before four o’clock, the abbe came in, followed by the lawyer to whom the baron had confided his last wishes.
“My husband!” exclaimed Mme. d’Escorval, springing wildly from her chair.
The priest bowed his head; she understood.
“Death!” she faltered. “They have condemned him!”
And overcome by the terrible blow, she sank back, inert, with hanging arms.
But the weakness did not last long; she again sprang up, her eyes brilliant with heroic resolve.
“We must save him!” she exclaimed. “We must wrest him from the scaffold. Up, Maurice! up, Marie-Anne! No more weak lamentations, we must to work! You, also, gentlemen, will aid me. I can count upon your assistance, Monsieur le Cure. What are we going to do? I do not know! But something must be done. The death of this just man would be too great a crime. God will not permit it.”
She suddenly paused, with clasped hands, and eyes uplifted to heaven, as if seeking divine inspiration.
“And the King,” she resumed; “will the King consent to such a crime? No. A king can refuse mercy, but he cannot refuse justice. I will go to him. I will tell him all! Why did not this thought come to me sooner? We must start for Paris without losing an instant. Maurice, you will accompany me. One of you gentlemen will go at once and order post-horses.”