Saturday, 24/02/2024 - 09:54

Chapter III. The usefulness of big letters

07:13 | 17/10/2019

Some one was surely caught in a trap.

Who could it be?

A shudder shook this man of steel.

It could not be he. His arrival could not have been discovered. It was impossible for the representatives to have learned it already, for he had but just stepped on shore. The corvette had surely foundered with all on board; and even on the corvette Boisberthelot and La Vieuville were the only men who knew his name.

The bells kept up their savage sport. He counted them mechanically, and in the abrupt transition from the assurance of perfect safety to a terrible sense of danger, his thoughts wandered restlessly from one conjecture to another. However, after all, this ringing might be accounted for in many different ways, and he finally reassured himself by repeating, “In short, no one knows of my arrival here, or even my name.”

For several minutes there had been a slight noise overhead and behind him, – a sound resembling the rustling of a leaf; at first he took no notice of it, but as it continued, persisted, one might almost say, he finally turned. It was really a leaf, – a leaf of paper. The wind was struggling to tear off a large placard that was pasted on the milestone above his head. The placard had but just been pasted; for it was still moist, and had become a prey to the wind, which in its sport had partly detached it.

The old man had not perceived it, because he had ascended the dune on the opposite side.

He stepped up on the stone where he had been sitting, and placed his hand on the corner of the placard that fluttered in the wind. The sky was clear; in June the twilight lasts a long time, and although it was dark at the foot of the dune, the summit was still light. A part of the notice was printed in large letters; it was yet sufficiently light to read it, and this was what he read: –

THE FRENCH REPUBLIC, ONE AND INDIVISIBLE.

We, Prieur of the Marne, representative of the people, in command of the army on the coast of Cherbourg, give notice, That the ci-devant Marquis of Lantenac, Viscount of Fontenay, calling himself a Breton prince, and who has secretly landed on the coast of Granville, is outlawed. A price has been set upon his head. Whoever captures him dead or alive will receive sixty thousand livres. This sum will be paid in gold, and not in paper money. A battalion of the army of the coast guards of Cherbourg will be at once despatched for the apprehension of the former Marquis of Lantenac. The inhabitants of the parishes are ordered to lend their aid.

Given at the Town Hall of Granville the second of June, 1793.

Signed:

PRIEUR, DE LA MARNE.

Below this name there was another signature written in smaller characters, which the fading light prevented him from deciphering. Pulling his hat down over his eyes, and muffling himself in his sea-cape up to his chin, the old man hastily descended the dune. Evidently it was not safe to tarry any longer on this lighted summit.

Perhaps he had stayed there too long already. The top of the dune was the only point of the landscape that still remained visible.

When he had descended and found himself in the darkness he slackened his pace.

He took the road leading to the farm which he had traced out, evidently believing himself safe in that direction. It was absolute solitude. There were no passers-by at this hour.

Stopping behind a clump of bushes, he unfastened his cloak, turned his waistcoat with the hairy side out, refastened his cloak, that was but a rag held by a string around his neck, and resumed his journey.

It was bright moonlight.

He came to a place where two roads forked, and on the pedestal of the old stone cross which stood there a white square could be distinguished, – undoubtedly another placard like the one he had lately read. As he drew near to it he heard a voice.

“Where are you going?” it said; and turning he beheld a man in the hedge-row, tall like himself, and of about the same age, with hair as white and garments even more ragged than his own, – almost his very double.

The man stood leaning on a long staff.

“I asked you where you were going? he repeated.

“In the first place, tell me where I am,” was the reply, uttered in tones of almost haughty composure.

And the man answered, –

“You are in the seigneury of Tanis, of which I am the beggar and you the lord.”

“I?”

“Yes, you, – monsieur le marquis de Lantenac.”

 

 



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