He rose—but at that very instant the door was flung open and a man entered, panting and breathless.
This man was Chupin, the former poacher, whom M. de Sairmeuse had elevated to the position of head gamekeeper.
It was evident that something extraordinary had happened.
“What is it?” inquired the duke.
“They are coming!” cried Chupin; “they are already on the way!”
By way of response, Chupin handed the duke a copy of the letter written by Martial under Chanlouineau’s dictation.
M. de Sairmeuse read:
“My dear friend—We are at last agreed, and the marriage is decided. We are now busy in preparing for the wedding, which will take place on the 4th of March.”
The date was no longer blank; but still the duke did not comprehend.
“Well, what of it?” he demanded.
Chupin tore his hair.
“They are on the way,” he repeated. “I speak of the peasants—they intend to take possession of Montaignac, dethrone Louis XVIII., bring back the Emperor, or at least the son of the Emperor—miserable wretches! they have deceived me. I suspected this outbreak, but I did not think it was so near at hand.”
This terrible blow, so entirely unexpected, stupefied the duke for a moment.
“How many are there?” he demanded.
“Ah! how do I know, Monsieur? Two thousand, perhaps—perhaps ten thousand.”
“All the towns-people are with us.”
“No, Monsieur, no. The rebels have accomplices here. All the retired officers stand ready to assist them.”
“Who are the leaders of the movement?”
“Lacheneur, Abbe Midon, Chanlouineau, Baron d’Escorval——”
“Enough!” cried the duke.
Now that danger was certain, his coolness returned; and his herculean form, a trifle bowed by the weight of years, rose to its full height.
He gave the bell-rope a violent pull; a valet appeared.
“My uniform,” commanded M. de Sairmeuse; “my pistols! Quick!”
The servant was about to obey, when the duke exclaimed:
“Wait! Let someone take a horse, and go and tell my son to come here without a moment’s delay. Take one of the swiftest horses. The messenger ought to go to Sairmeuse and return in two hours.”
Chupin endeavored to attract the duke’s attention by pulling the skirt of his coat. M. de Sairmeuse turned:
“What is it?”
The old poacher put his finger on his lip, recommending silence, but as soon as the valet had left the room, he said:
“It is useless to send for the marquis.”
“And why, you fool?”
“Because, Monsieur, because—excuse me—I——”
“Zounds! will you speak, or will you not?”
Chupin regretted that he had gone so far.
“Because the marquis——”
“He is engaged in it.”