Ninety-three/1.4.3

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Ninety-three by Victor Hugo
The Advantage of Large Letters.

CHAPTER III.

THE ADVANTAGE OF LARGE LETTERS.

Certainly they were after somebody.

Who?

This man of steel shuddered.

He could not be the one. No one could have found out his coming; it was impossible for the acting representatives to have been informed already; he had hardly landed. The corvette had evidently foundered without a man escaping. And even in the corvette no one knew his name except Boisberthelot and La Vieuville.

The bells continued their wild play. He watched them and counted them mechanically, and his thoughts, driven from one conjecture to another, fluctuated between complete security and terrible uncertainty. However, after all, this tocsin could be explained in many ways, and he finally assured himself, by repeating, "Surely, nobody knows of my arrival, and nobody knows my name."

For some moments there had been a slight sound above and behind him. This sound was like the rustling of a leaf on a wind-shaken tree. At first, he paid no heed to it; then, as the sound continued, one might say insisted, he at last turned around. It was a leaf to be sure, but a leaf of paper. The wind was trying to detach a large placard pasted to the monument above his head. This placard had been put up only a short time before, for it was still damp, and yielded to the wind, which had begun to play with it and to unfasten it. The old man had climbed up the dune from the opposite side, and had not seen this placard when he reached the top.

He mounted the post on which he had been sitting, and placed his hand on the corner of the placard which was flapping in the wind; the sky was cloudless the twilights are long in June; the foot of the dune was dark, but the top was light; a part of the placard was printed in large letters, and there was still enough daylight to read them He read this,—

"The French Republic, one and indivisible.

"We, Prieur de la Marne, active representative of the people near the army of tlie coast of Cherbourg, order: The former Marquis de Lantenac, viscount de Fontenay, the so-called prince of Brittany, secretly landed on the coast of Granville, is declared an outlaw. A price is put on his head. The sum of sixty thousand livres will be paid to him who will deliver him up, dead or alive. This sum will not be paid in assignats, but in gold. A battalion of the army of the coast of Cherbourg will be sent immediately in pursuit of the former Marquis de Lantenac. The parishes are ordered to lend every assistance. Given at the town hall of Granville, this second day of June, 1793. Signed

"Prieur de la Marne."

Underneath this name there was another signature in much smaller characters, which was not legible, because there was so little daylight left.

The old man pulled down his hat over his eyes, drew his cloak closely up under his chin, and went quickly down the dune. It was evidently unsafe to remain longer on this prominent summit.

He had possibly stayed there too long already; the top of the dune was the only point in the whole landscape which still remained visible.

When he reached the foot of the dune and was in darkness, he walked more slowly.

He started to go, as he had planned, towards the farm, probably having good reasons for thinking he would be safe in this direction.

Everything was deserted. It was an hour when there were no passers-by. He stopped behind a thicket, took off his cloak, turned the hairy side of his vest out, fastened his ragged cloak around his neck again by the cord, and started on his way.

It was bright moonlight.

He came to a place where two roads met and where there stood an old stone cross. On the pedestal of the cross, he noticed a white square, probably a placard like the one he had just read. He went nearer to it.

"Where are you going?" said a voice.

He turned around.

A man was there in the thicket, tall like himself, old like himself, like him with white hair, and with garments more ragged. Almost his double. This man was leaning on a long stick.

The man said again,—

"I ask where you are going?"

"In the first place, where am I?" he said, with an almost haughty calnmess.

The man replied,—

"You are in the seigneurie of Tanis. I am its beggar, you are its seigneur."

"I?"

"Yes, you, sir, the Marquis de Lantenac."