Chapter XII. The rescue planned
The entire night was spent by both parties in preparations. As soon as the gloomy parley to which we lately listened was over, Gauvain’s first act was to summon his lieutenant.
Guéchamp, with whom we must become acquainted, was a man of the secondary order, honest, brave, commonplace, a better soldier than commander, strictly intelligent up to the point when it becomes a duty not to understand, never moved to tenderness, proof against corruption in whatsoever shape it might present itself, – whether in the form of bribery, that taints the conscience, or in that of pity, that corrupts justice. As the eyes of a horse are shaded by his blinders, so were his heart and soul protected by the two screens of discipline and the order of command, and he walked straight ahead in the space they allowed him to see. His course was direct, but his path was narrow.
A man to be depended on, withal, – stern in command, exact in obedience.
Gauvain spoke in rapid tones, –
“We need a ladder, Guéchamp.”
“We have none, commander.”
“One must be found.”
“No; for rescue.”
After a moments reflection, Guéchamp replied, –
“I understand. But to serve your purpose a very long one is needed.”
“The length of three stories.”
“Yes, commander, that’s about the height.”
“It ought to be longer than that, for we must be sure of success.”
“How is it that you have no ladder?”
“Commander, you did not think it best to besiege the Tourgue from the plateau; you were satisfied to blockade it on that side; you planned the attack by way of the tower, and not from the bridge. So we gave our attention to the mine, and thought no more about the scaling. That is why we have no ladder.”
“Have one made at once.”
“A ladder of the length of three stories cannot be made at once.”
“Then fasten several short ones together.”
“But we must first get our ladders.”
“There are none to be found. All through the country the peasants destroy ladders, just as they break up the carts and cut the bridges.”
“True, they intend to paralyze the Republic.”
“They mean that we shall neither transport baggage, cross a river, nor scale a wall.”
“But I must have a ladder, in spite of all that.”
“I was thinking, commander, that at Javené, near Fougères, there is a large carpenter’s shop. We might get one there.”
“There is not a moment to lose.”
“When do you want the ladder?”
“By this time to-morrow, at the latest.”
“I will send a messenger at full speed to Javené to carry the order for a requisition. A post of cavalry stationed there will furnish an escort. The ladder may be here to-morrow before sunset.”
“Very well; that will answer,” said Gauvain; “only be quick about it. Go!”
Ten minutes later, Guéchamp returned, and said to Gauvain, –
“The messenger has started for Javené.”
Gauvain ascended the plateau, and for a long time stood gazing intently on the bridge-castle across the ravine. The gable of the castle, with no other opening than the low entrance closed by the raised drawbridge, faced the escarpment of the ravine. In order to reach the plateau at the foot of the bridge one roust climb down the face of the ravine, which might be accomplished by clinging to the bushes. But once in the moat, the assailants would be exposed to a shower of missiles from the three stories. Gauvain became convinced that at this stage of the siege the proper way to attack was through the breach of the tower.
He took every precaution to render flight impossible; he perfected the strict blockade of the Tourgue. Drawing the meshes of his battalions more and more closely, so that nothing could pass between them, Gauvain and Cimourdain divided the investment of the fortress between them, – the former reserving for himself the forest side, and leaving the plateau to Cimourdain. It was agreed that while Gauvain, aided by Guéchamp, should conduct the assault through the mine, Cimourdain, with all the matches of the upper battery lighted, should watch the bridge and the ravine.