They were Mme. d’Escorval and Maurice, Marie-Anne, Abbe Midon, and the four retired army officers.
There was no moon; but the night was very clear, and they could see the tower quite plainly.
Soon after four o’clock sounded they saw a dark object glide slowly down the side of the tower—it was the baron. After a little, another form followed very rapidly—it was Bavois.
Half of the perilous journey was accomplished.
From below, they could see the two figures moving about on the narrow platform. The corporal and the baron were exerting all their strength to fix the crowbar securely in a crevice of the rock.
In a moment or two one of the figures stepped from the projecting rock and glided gently down the side of the precipice.
It could be none other than M. d’Escorval. Transported with happiness, his wife sprang forward with open arms to receive him.
Wretched woman! A terrific cry rent the still night air.
M. d’Escorval was falling from a height of fifty feet; he was hurled down to the foot of the rocky precipice. The rope had parted.
Had it broken naturally?
Maurice, who examined the end of it, exclaimed with horrible imprecations of hatred and vengeance that they had been betrayed—that their enemy had arranged to deliver only a dead body into their hands—that the rope, in short, had been foully tampered with—cut!
Chupin had not taken time to sleep, nor scarcely time to drink, since that unfortunate morning when the Duc de Sairmeuse ordered affixed to the walls of Montaignac, that decree in which he promised twenty thousand francs to the person who should deliver up Lacheneur, dead or alive.
“Twenty thousand francs,” Chupin muttered gloomily; “twenty sacks with a hundred pistoles in each! Ah! if I could discover Lacheneur; even if he were dead and buried a hundred feet under ground, I should gain the reward.”
The appellation of traitor, which he would receive; the shame and condemnation that would fall upon him and his, did not make him hesitate for a moment.
He saw but one thing—the reward—the blood-money.
Unfortunately, he had nothing whatever to guide him in his researches; no clew, however vague.
All that was known in Montaignac was that M. Lacheneur’s horse was killed at the Croix d’Arcy.
But no one knew whether Lacheneur himself had been wounded, or whether he had escaped from the fray uninjured. Had he reached the frontier? or had he found an asylum in the house of one of his friends?
Chupin was thus hungering for the price of blood, when, on the day of the trial, as he was returning from the citadel, after making his deposition, he entered a drinking saloon. While there he heard the name of Lacheneur uttered in low tones near him.