Greatly alarmed, he decided to go and see his former friend, and fearing another repulse, he begged Abbe Midon to accompany him.
It was on the 4th of March, at about half-past four o’clock, that M. d’Escorval and the cure started for the Reche. They were so anxious and troubled in mind that they scarcely exchanged a dozen words as they wended their way onward.
A strange sight met their eyes as they emerged from the grove on the Reche.
Night was falling, but it was still light enough for them to distinguish objects only a short distance from them.
Before Lacheneur’s house stood a group of about a dozen persons, and M. Lacheneur was speaking and gesticulating excitedly.
What was he saying? Neither the baron nor the priest could distinguish his words, but when he ceased, the most vociferous acclamations rent the air.
Suddenly a match glowed between his fingers; he set fire to a bundle of straw and tossed it upon the thatched roof of his cottage, crying out in a terrible voice:
“The die is cast! This will prove to you that I shall not draw back!”
Five minutes later the house was in flames.
In the distance the baron and his companion saw the windows of the citadel at Montaignac illuminated by a red glare, and upon every hill-side glowed the light of other incendiary fires.
The country was responding to Lacheneur’s signal.
Ah! ambition is a fine thing!
The Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu were past middle age; their lives had been marked by many storms and vicissitudes; they were the possessors of millions, and the owners of the most sumptuous residences in the province. Under these circumstances one might have supposed that they would desire to end their days in peace and quietness.
It would have been easy for them to create a life of happiness by doing good to those around them, and by preparing for their last hours a chorus of benedictions and of regrets.
But no. They longed to have a hand in managing the ship of state; they were not content to be simply passengers.
And the duke, appointed to the command of the military forces, and the marquis, made presiding judge of the court at Montaignac, were both obliged to leave their beautiful homes and take up their abode in rather dingy quarters in town.
They did not murmur at the change; their vanity was satisfied.
Louis XVIII. was on the throne; their prejudices were triumphant; they were happy.
It is true that dissatisfaction was rife on every side, but had they not hundreds and thousands of allies at hand to suppress it?
And when wise and thoughtful persons spoke of “discontent,” the duke and his associates regarded them as visionaries.
On the 4th of March, 1816, the duke was just sitting down to dinner when a loud noise was heard in the vestibule.