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List Of Contents | Contents of The Countess of Saint Geran, by Dumas, Pere
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The moon was shining brightly into the yard; he heard no sound.  He
proceeded to the end of the wooden rail, and perceived the dungheap,
which rose to a good height: the girl made the sign of the cross.
The marquis listened once again, heard nothing, and mounted the rail.
He was about to jump down, when by wonderful luck he heard murmurings
from a deep voice.  This proceeded from one of two horsemen, who were
recommencing their conversation and passing between them a pint of
wine.  The marquis crept back to his door, holding his breath: the
girl was awaiting him on the threshold.

"I told you it was not yet time," said she.

"Have you never a knife," said the marquis, "to cut those rascals'
throats with?"

"Wait, I entreat you, one hour, one hour only," murmured the young
girl; "in an hour they will all be asleep."

The girl's voice was so sweet, the arms which she stretched towards
him were full of such gentle entreaty, that the marquis waited, and
at the end of an hour it was the young girl's turn to tell him to
start.

The marquis for the last time pressed with his mouth those lips but
lately so innocent, then he half opened the door, and heard nothing
this time but dogs barking far away in an otherwise silent country.
He leaned over the balustrade, and saw: very plainly a soldier lying
prone on the straw.

"If they were to awake?" murmured the young girl in accents of
anguish.

"They will not take me alive, be assured," said the marquis.

"Adieu, then," replied she, sobbing; "may Heaven preserve you!"

He bestrode the balustrade, spread himself out upon it, and fell
heavily on the dungheap.  The young girl saw him run to the shed,
hastily detach a horse, pass behind the stable wall, spur his horse
in both flanks, tear across the kitchen garden, drive his horse
against the hurdle, knock it down, clear it, and reach the highroad
across the fields.

The poor girl remained at the end of the gallery, fixing her eyes on
the sleeping sentry, and ready to disappear at the slightest
movement.  The noise made by spurs on the pavement and by the horse
at the end of the courtyard had half awakened him.  He rose, and
suspecting some surprise, ran to the shed.  His horse was no longer
there; the marquis, in his haste to escape, had taken the first which
came to hand, and this was the soldier's.  Then the soldier gave the
alarm; his comrades woke up.  They ran to the prisoner's room, and
found it empty.  The provost came from his bed in a dazed condition.
The prisoner had escaped.

Then the young girl, pretending to have been roused by the noise,
hindered the preparations by mislaying the saddlery, impeding the
horsemen instead of helping them; nevertheless, after a quarter of an
hour, all the party were galloping along the road.  The provost swore
like a pagan.  The best horses led the way, and the sentinel, who
rode the marquis's, and who had a greater interest in catching the
prisoner, far outstripped his companions; he was followed by the
sergeant, equally well mounted, and as the broken fence showed the
line he had taken, after some minutes they were in view of him, but
at a great distance.  However, the marquis was losing ground; the
horse he had taken was the worst in the troop, and he had pressed it
as hard as it could go.  Turning in the saddle, he saw the soldiers
half a musket-shot off; he urged his horse more and more, tearing his
sides with his spurs; but shortly the beast, completely winded.
foundered; the marquis rolled with it in the dust, but when rolling
over he caught hold of the holsters, which he found to contain
pistols; he lay flat by the side of the horse, as if he had fainted,
with a pistol at full cock in his hand.  The sentinel, mounted on a
valuable horse, and more than two hundred yards ahead of his
serafile, came up to him.  In a moment the marquis, jumping up before
he had tune to resist him, shot him through the head; the horseman
fell, the marquis jumped up in his place without even setting foot in
the stirrup, started off at a gallop, and went away like the wind,
leaving fifty yards behind him the non-commissioned officer,
dumbfounded with what had just passed before his eyes.

The main body of the escort galloped up, thinking that he was taken;
and the provost shouted till he was hoarse, "Do not kill him!" But
they found only the sergeant, trying to restore life to his man,
whose skull was shattered, and who lay dead on the spot.

As for the marquis, he was out of sight; for, fearing a fresh
pursuit, he had plunged into the cross roads, along which he rode a
good hour longer at full gallop.  When he felt pretty sure of having
shaken the police off his track, and that their bad horses could not
overtake him, he determined to slacken to recruit his horse; he was
walking him along a hollow lane, when he saw a peasant approaching;
he asked him the road to the Bourbonnais, and flung him a crown.  The
man took the crown and pointed out the road, but he seemed hardly to
know what he was saying, and stared at the marquis in a strange
manner.  The marquis shouted to him to get out of the way; but the
peasant remained planted on the roadside without stirring an inch.
The marquis advanced with threatening looks, and asked how he dared
to stare at him like that.

"The reason is," said the peasant, "that you have----", and he
pointed to his shoulder and his ruff.

The marquis glanced at his dress, and saw that his coat was dabbled
in blood, which, added to the disorder of his clothes and the dust
with which he was covered, gave him a most suspicious aspect.

"I know," said he.  "I and my servant have been separated in a
scuffle with some drunken Germans; it's only a tipsy spree, and
whether I have got scratched, or whether in collaring one of these
fellows I have drawn some of his blood, it all arises from the row.
I don't think I am hurt a bit."  So saying, he pretended to feel all
over his body.

"All the same," he continued, "I should not be sorry to have a wash;
besides, I am dying with thirst and heat, and my horse is in no
better case.  Do you know where I can rest and refresh myself?"

The peasant offered to guide him to his own house, only a few yards
off.  His wife and children, who were working, respectfully stood
aside, and went to collect what was wanted--wine, water, fruit, and a
large piece of black bread.  The marquis sponged his coat, drank a
glass of wine, and called the people of the house, whom he questioned
in an indifferent manner.  He once more informed himself of the
different roads leading into the Bourbonnais province, where he was
going to visit a relative; of the villages, cross roads, distances;
and finally he spoke of the country, the harvest, and asked what news
there was.

The peasant replied, with regard to this, that it was surprising to
hear of disturbances on the highway at this moment, when it was
patrolled by detachments of mounted police, who had just made an
important capture.

"Who is that?--" asked the marquis.

"Oh," said the peasant, "a nobleman who has done a lot of mischief in
the country."

"What! a nobleman in the hands of justice?"

"Just so; and he stands a good chance of losing his head."

"Do they say what he has done?"

"Shocking things; horrid things; everything he shouldn't do.  All the
province is exasperated with him."

"Do you know him?"

"No, but we all have his description."

As this news was not encouraging, the marquis, after a few more
questions, saw to his horse, patted him, threw some more money to the
peasant, and disappeared in the direction pointed out.

The provost proceeded half a league farther along the road; but
coming to the conclusion that pursuit was useless, he sent one of his
men to headquarters, to warn all the points of exit from the
province, and himself returned with his troop to the place whence he
had started in the morning.  The marquis had relatives in the
neighbourhood, and it was quite possible that he might seek shelter
with some of them.  All the village ran to meet the horsemen, who
were obliged to confess that they had been duped by the handsome
prisoner.  Different views were expressed on the event, which gave
rise to much talking.  The provost entered the inn, banging his fist
on the furniture, and blaming everybody for the misfortune which had
happened to him.  The daughter of the house, at first a prey to the
most grievous anxiety, had great difficulty in concealing her joy.

The provost spread his papers over the table, as if to nurse his
ill-temper.

"The biggest rascal in the world!" he cried; "I ought to have
suspected him."

"What a handsome man he was!" said the hostess.

"A consummate rascal!  Do you know who he is?  He is the Marquis de
Saint-Maixent!"

"The Marquis de Saint-Maixent!" all cried with horror.

"Yes, the very man," replied the provost; "the Marquis de
Saint-Maixent, accused, and indeed convicted, of coining and magic."

"Ah!"

"Convicted of incest."

"O my God!"

"Convicted of having strangled his wife to marry another, whose
husband he had first stabbed."

"Heaven help us!" All crossed themselves.

"Yes, good people," continued the furious provost, "this is the nice
boy who has just escaped the king's justice!"

The host's daughter left the room, for she felt she was going to
faint.

"But," said the host, "is there no hope of catching him again?"

"Not the slightest, if he has taken the road to the Bourbonnais; for
I believe there are in that province noblemen belonging to his family
who will not allow him to be rearrested."

The fugitive was, indeed, no other than the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
accused of all the enormous crimes detailed by the provost, who by
his audacious flight opened for himself an active part in the strange
story which it remains to relate.

It came to pass, a fortnight after these events, that a mounted
gentleman rang at the wicket gate of the chateau de Saint-Geran, at
the gates of Moulins.  It was late, and the servants were in no hurry
to open.  The stranger again pulled the bell in a masterful manner,

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