“The people of Montaignac are pleased. They know that the baron has escaped, and they are rejoicing.”
Alas! this joy was destined to be of short duration, for this was the day appointed for the execution of the conspirators.
It was Wednesday.
At noon the gates of the citadel were closed, and the gloom was profound and universal, when the heavy rolling of drums announced the preparations for the frightful holocaust.
Consternation and fear spread through the town; the silence of death made itself felt on every side; the streets were deserted, and the doors and shutters of every house were closed.
At last, as three o’clock sounded, the gates of the fortress were opened to give passage to fourteen doomed men, each accompanied by a priest.
Fourteen! for seized by remorse or fright at the last moment, M de Courtornieu and the Duc de Sairmeuse had granted a reprieve to six of the prisoners and at that very hour a courier was hastening toward Paris with six petitions for pardons, signed by the Military Commission.
Chanlouineau was not among those for whom royal clemency had been solicited.
When he left his cell, without knowing whether or not his letter had availed, he counted the condemned with poignant anxiety.
His eyes betrayed such an agony of anguish that the priest who accompanied him leaned toward him and whispered:
“For whom are you looking, my son?”
“For Baron d’Escorval.”
“He escaped last night.”
“Ah! now I shall die content!” exclaimed the heroic peasant.
He died as he had sworn he would die, without even changing color—calm and proud, the name of Marie-Anne upon his lips.
Ah, well, there was one woman, a fair young girl, whose heart had not been touched by the sorrowful scenes of which Montaignac had been the theatre.
Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu smiled as brightly as ever in the midst of a stricken people; and surrounded by mourners, her lovely eyes remained dry.
The daughter of a man who, for a week, exercised the power of a dictator, she did not lift her finger to save a single one of the condemned prisoners from the executioner.
They had stopped her carriage on the public road. This was a crime which Mlle. de Courtornieu could never forget.
She also knew that she owed it to Marie-Anne’s intercession that she had not been held prisoner. This she could never forgive.
So it was with the bitterest resentment that, on the morning following her arrival in Montaignac, she recounted what she styled her “humiliations” to her father, i.e., the inconceivable arrogance of that Lacheneur girl, and the frightful brutality of which the peasants had been guilty.
And when the Marquis de Courtornieu asked if she would consent to testify against Baron d’Escorval, she coldly replied: