“By killing me you would, it is true, escape the chastisement I am reserving for you. Consent to fight with me. Shall I await you to-morrow on the Reche? At what hour? With what weapons?
“If you are the vilest of men, you can appoint a rendezvous, and then send your gendarmes to arrest me. That would be an act worthy of you.
The duke was in despair. He saw the secret of the baron’s flight made public—his political prospects ruined.
“Hush!” he said, hurriedly, and in a low voice; “hush, wretched man, you will ruin us!”
But Martial seemed not even to hear him. When he had finished his reading:
“Now, what do you think?” he demanded, looking the Marquis de Courtornieu full in the face.
“I am still unable to comprehend,” said the old nobleman, coldly.
Martial lifted his hand; everyone believed that he was about to strike the man who had been his father-in-law only a few hours.
“Very well! I comprehend!” he exclaimed. “I know now who that officer was who entered the room in which I had deposited the ropes—and I know what took him there.”
He crumbled the letter between his hands and threw it in M. de Courtornieu’s face, saying:
“Here is your reward—coward!”
Overwhelmed by this denouement the marquis sank into an arm-chair, and Martial, still holding Jean Lacheneur by the arm, was leaving the room, when his young wife, wild with despair, tried to detain him.
“You shall not go!” she exclaimed, intensely exasperated; “you shall not! Where are you going? To rejoin the sister of the man, whom I now recognize?”
Beside himself, Martial pushed his wife roughly aside.
“Wretch!” said he, “how dare you insult the noblest and purest of women? Ah, well—yes—I am going to find Marie-Anne. Farewell!”
And he passed on.
The ledge of rock upon which Baron d’Escorval and Corporal Bavois rested in their descent from the tower was very narrow.
In the widest place it did not measure more than a yard and a half, and its surface was uneven, cut by innumerable fissures and crevices, and sloped suddenly at the edge. To stand there in the daytime, with the wall of the tower behind one, and the precipice at one’s feet, would have been considered very imprudent.
Of course, the task of lowering a man from this ledge, at dead of night, was perilous in the extreme.
Before allowing the baron to descend, honest Bavois took every possible precaution to save himself from being dragged over the verge of the precipice by the weight he would be obliged to sustain.
He placed his crowbar firmly in a crevice of the rock, then bracing his feet against the bar, he seated himself firmly, throwing his shoulders well back, and it was only when he was sure of his position that he said to the baron: