Friday, 23/02/2024 - 13:04

Chapter XIV. The imânus also escapes

11:28 | 13/10/2019
At that moment a loud voice was heard, and the chest, violently hurled aside, was shattered into fragments, – giving passage to a man, who, sabre in hand, rushed into the hall.

“It is I, Radoub!” he cried. “Who wants to fight me? I am bored to death with waiting, and I must run the risk. I don’t care what happens; at all events, I have disembowelled one of you, and now I come to attack you all. Follow me or not, as you like; but here I am. How many are you?”

It was indeed Radoub himself, and he alone. After the slaughter that the Imânus had made on the staircase, Gauvain, suspecting some hidden mine, had withdrawn his men and was taking counsel with Cimourdain.

Amid the darkness, where the expiring torch cast but a feeble glimmer, Radoub, sabre in hand, stood on the threshold and repeated his question, –

“I am alone. How many are you?”

Receiving no reply, he advanced. Just then one of those sudden flashes, emitted from time to time by a dying fire, – a kind of throbbing light, which might be compared with a human sob, – burst from the torch and illuminated the entire hall.

Radoub caught sight of one of the little mirrors hung on the wall, and approaching it, inspected his bloody face and lacerated ear, saying as he did so, –

“What a horrible mutilation!”

Then he turned, surprised to see the hall empty, and cried, –

“No one here! not a soul!”

His eyes lighted on the revolving stone, the passage, and the staircase.

“Ah, I understand! they have taken to their heels! Come on, comrades! come on! They have all run away; they have gone, evaporated, dissolved, vanished. There was a crack in this old jug of a tower; there is the hole through which they got out, the rascals! How are we ever to get the better of Pitt and Coburg, when men play tricks like these? The Devil himself must have come to their aid. There is no one here!”

A pistol-shot was fired, and a ball, grazing his elbow, flattened itself against the wall.

“Ah! some one is here, then! To whom do I owe this delicate attention?”

“To me,” replied a voice.

Radoub, peering through the shadows, at last descried the form of Imânus.

“Aha!” he cried, “I have got one of you! The others have escaped, but you will not get off.”

“Is that your opinion?” replied the Imânus. Radoub made one step forward and paused.

“Hey I who are you, lying on the ground there?”

“I am a man on the ground, who laughs at those who are on the feet.”

“What is that in your right hand?”

“A pistol.”

“And in your left hand?”

“My intestines.”

“I take you prisoner.”

“I defy you to do it.”

And the Imânus, stooping over the burning wick, blew feebly upon its flame, and with that breath expired.

A few moments later, Gauvain and Cimourdain, followed by the others, entered the hall. They all saw the opening, and after searching every corner and exploring the staircase which led down into the ravine, they felt very sure that the enemy had escaped. They shook the Imânus, but he was dead. Gauvain, with lantern in hand, examined the stone which had furnished the fugitives with a means of escape. He had heard of this revolving stone, but he too had always regarded it as a fable. While he was examining the stone he noticed certain words written with a pencil; and holding the lantern nearer, he read as follows: –

“Au revoir, Monsieur le Vicomte.
“LANTENAC.”

Guéchamp had joined Gauvain. Pursuit was manifestly out of the question; the escape had been successful; everything was in favor of the fugitives, – the entire country, the underbrush, the ravines, the copses, and even the inhabitants themselves. No doubt they were far enough away by this time; there was no possibility of finding them, and the entire forest of Fougères was one vast hiding-place. What was to be done? They saw themselves forced to begin the whole affair over again. Gauvain and Guéchamp exchanged their regrets and conjectures.

Cimourdain listened gravely without uttering a word.

“By the way, Guéchamp, how was it about the ladder?”

“It has not come, commander.”

“But we saw a wagon with an escort of gendarmes.”

“It was not bringing the ladder,” replied Guéchamp.

“What, then, was it bringing?”

“The guillotine,” said Cimourdain.

 



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