“Ah! so Marie-Anne had a child,” he said, as they hurried on. “She was pretending to be such a saint! But where the devil has she put it?”
“I shall find it.”
“Hum! That is easier said than done.”
A shrill laugh, resounding in the darkness, interrupted him. He released his hold on the arm of Blanche and assumed an attitude of defence.
Vain precaution! A man concealed behind a tree bounded upon him, and, plunging his knife four times into the old poacher’s writhing body, cried:
“Holy Virgin! now is my vow fulfilled! I shall no longer be obliged to eat with my fingers!”
“The innkeeper!” groaned the wounded man, sinking to the earth.
For once in her life, Aunt Medea manifested some energy.
“Come!” she shrieked, wild with fear, dragging her niece away. “Come—he is dead!”
Not quite. The traitor had strength to crawl home and knock at the door.
His wife and youngest son were sleeping soundly. His eldest son, who had just returned home, opened the door.
Seeing his father prostrate on the ground, he thought he was intoxicated, and tried to lift him and carry him into the house, but the old poacher begged him to desist.
“Do not touch me,” said he. “It is all over with me; but listen; Lacheneur’s daughter has just been poisoned by Madame Blanche. It was to tell you this that I dragged myself here. This knowledge is worth a fortune, my boy, if you are not a fool!”
And he died, without being able to tell his family where he had concealed the price of Lacheneur’s blood.
Of all the persons who witnessed Baron d’Escorval’s terrible fall, the abbe was the only one who did not despair.
What a learned doctor would not have dared to do, he did.
He was a priest; he had faith. He remembered
the sublime saying of
Ambroise Pare: “I dress the wound: God heals it.”
After a six months’ sojourn in Father Poignot’s secluded farm-house, M. d’Escorval was able to sit up and to walk about a little, with the aid of crutches.
Then he began to be seriously inconvenienced by his cramped quarters in the loft, where prudence compelled him to remain; and it was with transports of joy that he welcomed the idea of taking up his abode at the Borderie with Marie-Anne.
When the day of departure had been decided upon, he counted the minutes as impatiently as a school-boy pining for vacation.
“I am suffocating here,” he said to his wife. “I am suffocating. Time drags so slowly. When will the happy day come?”
It came at last. During the morning all the articles which they had succeeded in procuring during their stay at the farm-house were collected and packed; and when night came, Poignot’s son began the moving.
“Everything is at the Borderie,” said the honest fellow, on returning from his last trip, “and Mademoiselle Lacheneur bids the baron bring a good appetite.”