Alone in his cell, Chanlouineau, after Marie-Anne’s departure, abandoned himself to the most frightful despair.
He had just given more than life to the woman he loved so fervently.
For had he not, in the hope of obtaining an interview with her, perilled his honor by simulating the most ignoble fear? While doing so, he thought only of the success of his ruse. But now he knew only too well what those who had witnessed his apparent weakness would say of him.
“This Chanlouineau is only a miserable coward after all,” he fancied he could hear them saying among themselves. “We have seen him on his knees, begging for mercy, and promising to betray his accomplices.”
The thought that his memory would be tarnished with charges of cowardice and treason drove him nearly mad.
He actually longed for death, since it would give him an opportunity to retrieve his honor.
“They shall see, then,” he cried, wrathfully, “if I turn pale and tremble before the soldiers.”
He was in this state of mind when the door opened to admit the Marquis de Courtornieu, who, after seeing Mlle. Lacheneur leave the prison, came to Chanlouineau to ascertain the result of her visit.
“Well, my good fellow—” began the marquis, in his most condescending manner.
“Leave!” cried Chanlouineau, in a fury of passion. “Leave, or——”
Without waiting to hear the end of the sentence the marquis made his escape, greatly surprised and not a little dismayed by this sudden change.
“What a dangerous and blood-thirsty rascal!” he remarked to the guard. “It would, perhaps, be advisable to put him in a strait-jacket!”
Ah! there was no necessity for that. The heroic peasant had thrown himself upon his straw pallet, oppressed with feverish anxiety.
Would Marie-Anne know how to make the best use of the weapon which he had placed in her hands?
If he hoped so, it was because she would have as her counsellor and guide a man in whose judgment he had the most implicit confidence—Abbe Midon.
“Martial will be afraid of the letter,” he said to himself, again and again; “certainly he will be afraid.”
In this Chanlouineau was entirely mistaken. His discernment and intelligence were certainly above his station, but he was not sufficiently acute to read a character like that of the young Marquis de Sairmeuse.
The document which he had written in a moment of abandon and blindness, was almost without influence in determining his course.
He pretended to be greatly alarmed, in order to frighten his father; but in reality he considered the threat puerile.
Marie-Anne would have obtained the same assistance from him if she had not possessed this letter.
Other influences had decided him: the difficulties and dangers of the undertaking, the risks to be incurred, the prejudices to be braved.