Chapter XIV. What the imânus is doing
While the Marquis occupied himself with the breach and tower, the Imânus attended to the bridge. At the beginning of the siege the escape-ladder suspended crosswise below the windows of the second story had been removed by order of the Marquis and placed by the Imânus in the library. Probably this was the very ladder whose place Gauvain wished to supply. The windows of the entresol on the first story, called the guard-room, were defended by a triple bracing of iron bars set in the stones, so that one could neither come nor go that way.
The library windows, which were high, had no bars.
The Imânus was accompanied by three men as resolute and daring as himself. These men were Hoisnard, called Branche-d’Or, and the two brothers Pique-en-Bois. Taking with him a dark-lantern, he opened the iron door, and made a careful inspection of the three stories of the bridge-castle. Hoisnard Branche-d’Or, whose brother had been killed by the Republicans, was as implacable as the Imânus. The latter investigated the upper story, filled with hay and straw, as well as the lower one, into which he had several pots-à-feu brought, which he placed near the tar-barrels; he ordered bundles of dry heather to be so arranged that they would touch the tar-casks, after which he made sure that the sulphur-match, one end of which was on the bridge and the other in the tower, was in good working order. Over the floor, under the casks and the bundles, he poured a pool of tar into which he dipped the end of the sulphur-match; then he ordered his men to bring into the library, between the ground-floor and the attic, with tar beneath and straw overhead, three cradles containing René-Jean, Gros-Alain, and Georgette, who were all sound asleep. The cradles were brought in very gently, that the children might not be roused.
They were simple little village cribs, something like an osier basket, which when placed on the floor were low enough for a child to climb in and out without
help. Beside each cradle the Imânus ordered them to place a porringer of soup, together with a wooden spoon. The escape-ladder, taken off its hooks, was laid on the floor against the wall, and the three cradles were placed end to end along the opposite wall, facing the ladder; then, thinking that a current of air might be useful, he flung wide open the six windows of the library. It was a warm and clear summer night.
He sent the brothers Pique-en-Bois to open the windows in the stories above and below. On the eastern façade of the building he had observed a large ivy, old and withered, about the color of tinder, which entirely covered one side of the bridge, framing the windows of the three stories, and thought that this ivy would do no harm. After bestowing a last glance on everything, the Imânus and his men left the châtelet and returned into the keep. Double locking the heavy iron door, he examined attentively this immense and awe-inspiring lock, nodded approvingly at the sulphur-match, passed through the hole he had drilled, which was henceforth the only channel of communication between the tower and the bridge. This match, starting from the round room, passed beneath the iron door and entered under the arch, coiled snake-like over the spiral stairs, crept across the floor of the corridor below, and ended in the pool of tar under the dry heath. The Imânus had calculated that it would take a quarter of an hour from the time this sulphur-match was lighted from the interior of the tower, to set on fire the pool of tar under the library. Having completed and reviewed all these preparations, he carried the key of the iron door to the Marquis de Lantenac, who put it in his pocket.
Every movement of the besiegers must be watched; so with his cowherd horn in his belt he stood sentinel in the watch-tower of the platform on the summit of the tower. While keeping his eye on both the forest and the plateau, he had beside him in the embrasure of the watch-tower a powder-horn, and a canvas bag filled with good-sized balls and old newspapers, which he tore up to make cartridges. When the sun rose, it revealed in the forest eight battalions, with sabres at their sides, cartridge-boxes on their backs, and fixed bayonets, ready for the assault; on the plateau a battery with caissons, cartridges, and boxes of grape-shot; within the fortress nineteen men loading their muskets, pistols, and blunderbusses, and three children asleep in their cradles.
A corruption of the word “patriot.” – Tr.