The noble peasant handed the girl the tiny scrap of paper which might have been his own salvation.
“On no account,” said he, “must you allow the duke to suppose that you have upon your person the proof with which you threaten him. Who knows of what he might be capable under such circumstances? He will say, at first, that he can do nothing—that he sees no way to save the baron. You will tell him that he must find a means, if he does not wish this letter sent to Paris, to one of his enemies——”
He paused; he heard the grating of the bolt. Corporal Bavois reappeared.
“The half hour expired ten minutes ago,” he said, sadly. “I have my orders.”
“Coming,” said Chanlouineau; “all is ended!”
And handing Marie-Anne the second letter:
“This is for you,” he added. “You will read it when I am no more. Pray, pray, do not weep thus! Be brave! You will soon be the wife of Maurice. And when you are happy, think sometimes of the poor peasant who loved you so much.”
Marie-Anne could not utter a word, but she lifted her face to his.
“Ah! I dared not ask it!” he exclaimed.
And for the first time he clasped her in his arms and pressed his lips to her pallid cheek.
“Now adieu,” he said once more. “Do not lose a moment. Adieu!”
The prospect of capturing Lacheneur, the chief conspirator, excited the Marquis de Courtornieu so much that he had not been able to tear himself away from the citadel to return home to his dinner.
Remaining near the entrance of the dark corridor leading to Chanlouineau’s cell, he watched Marie-Anne depart; but as he saw her go out into the twilight with a quick, alert step, he felt a sudden doubt of Chanlouineau’s sincerity.
“Can it be that this miserable peasant has deceived me?” he thought.
So strong was this suspicion that he hastened after her, determined to question her—to ascertain the truth—to arrest her, if necessary.
But he no longer possessed the agility of youth, and when he reached the gateway the guard told him that Mlle. Lacheneur had already passed out. He rushed out after her, looked about on every side, but could see no trace of her. He re-entered the citadel, furious with himself for his own credulity.
“Still, I can visit Chanlouineau,” thought he, “and to-morrow will be time enough to summon this creature and question her.”
“This creature” was even then hastening up the long, ill-paved street that led to the Hotel de France.
Regardless of self, and of the curious gaze of a few passers-by, she ran on, thinking only of shortening the terrible anxiety which her friends at the hotel must be enduring.
“All is not lost!” she exclaimed, on re-entering the room.
“My God, Thou hast heard my prayers!” murmured the baroness.