“Here! Maurice! Look!”
It was a French journal about a fortnight old, which had probably been left there by some traveller.
Maurice seized it and read:
“Yesterday, Lacheneur, the leader of the revolt in Montaignac, was executed. The miserable mischief-maker exhibited upon the scaffold the audacity for which he has always been famous.”
“My father has been put to death!” cried Marie-Anne, “and I—his daughter—was not there to receive his last farewell!”
She rose, and in an imperious voice:
“I will go no farther,” she said; “we must turn back now without losing an instant. I wish to return to France.”
To return to France was to expose themselves to frightful peril. What good would it do? Was not the misfortune irreparable?
So Corporal Bavois suggested, very timidly. The old soldier trembled at the thought that they might suspect him of being afraid.
But Maurice would not listen.
He shuddered. It seemed to him that Baron d’Escorval must have been discovered and arrested at the same time that Lacheneur was captured.
“Yes, let us start at once on our return!” he exclaimed.
They immediately procured a carriage to convey them to the frontier. One important question, however, remained to be decided. Should Maurice and Marie-Anne make their marriage public? She wished to do so, but Maurice entreated her, with tears in his eyes, to conceal it.
“Our marriage certificate will not silence the evil disposed,” said he. “Let us keep our secret for the present. We shall doubtless remain in France only a few days.”
Unfortunately, Marie-Anne yielded.
“Since you wish it,” said she, “I will obey you. No one shall know it.”
The next day, which was the 14th of April, the fugitives at nightfall reached Father Poignot’s house.
Maurice and Corporal Bavois were disguised as peasants.
The old soldier had made one sacrifice that drew tears from his eyes; he had shaved off his mustache.
When Abbe Midon and Martial de Sairmeuse held their conference, to discuss and to decide upon the arrangements for the Baron d’Escorval’s escape, a difficulty presented itself which threatened to break off the negotiation.
“Return my letter,” said Martial, “and I will save the baron.”
“Save the baron,” replied the abbe, “and your letter shall be returned.”
But Martial’s was one of those natures which become exasperated by the least shadow of suspicion.
The idea that anyone should suppose him influenced by threats, when in reality, he had yielded only to Marie-Anne’s tears, angered him beyond endurance.
“These are my last words, Monsieur,” he said, emphatically. “Restore to me, now, this instant, the letter which was obtained from me by Chanlouineau’s ruse, and I swear to you, by the honor of my name, that all which it is possible for any human being to do to save the baron, I will do. If you distrust my word, good-evening.”