The duke overturned the table with a terrible blow of his clinched fist.
“You lie, wretch!” he thundered, with the most horrible oaths.
He was so formidable in his anger that the old poacher sprang to the door and turned the knob, ready to take flight.
“May I lose my head if I do not speak the truth,” he insisted. “Ah! Lacheneur’s daughter is a regular sorceress. All the gallants of the neighborhood are in the ranks; Chanlouineau, young d’Escorval, your son——”
M. de Sairmeuse was pouring forth a torrent of curses upon Marie-Anne when his valet re-entered the room.
He suddenly checked himself, put on his uniform, and ordering Chupin to follow him, hastened from the house.
He was still hoping that Chupin had exaggerated the danger; but when he reached the Place d’Arms, which commanded an extended view of the surrounding country, his illusions were put to flight.
Signal-lights gleamed upon every side. Montaignac seemed surrounded by a circle of flame.
“These are the signals,” murmured Chupin. “The rebels will be here before two o’clock in the morning.”
The duke made no response, but hastened to consult M. de Courtornieu.
He was striding toward his friend’s house when, on hastily turning a corner, he saw two men talking in a doorway, and on seeing the glittering of the duke’s epaulets, both of them took flight.
The duke instinctively started in pursuit, overtook one man, and seizing him by the collar, he asked, sternly:
“Who are you? What is your name?”
The man was silent, and his captor shook him so roughly that two pistols, which had been hidden under his long coat, fell to the ground.
“Ah, brigand!” exclaimed M. de Sairmeuse, “so you are one of the conspirators against the King!”
Then, without another word, he dragged the man to the citadel, gave him in charge of the astonished soldiers, and again started for M. de Courtornieu’s house.
He expected the marquis would be terrified; not in the least; he seemed delighted.
“At last there comes an opportunity for us to display our devotion and our zeal—and without danger! We have good walls, strong gates, and three thousand soldiers at our command. These peasants are fools! But be grateful for their folly, my dear duke, and run and order out the Montaignac chasseurs——”
But suddenly a cloud overspread his face; he knit his brows, and added:
“The devil! I am expecting Blanche this evening. She was to leave Courtornieu after dinner. Heaven grant that she may meet with no misfortune on the way!”
The Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu had more time before them than they supposed.
The rebels were advancing, but not so rapidly as Chupin had said.
Two circumstances, which it was impossible to foresee, disarranged Lacheneur’s plans.