Ninety-three/3.2.12

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Ninety-three by Victor Hugo
A Scheme for Escape.

CHAPTER XII.

A SCHEME FOR ESCAPE.

The whole night was spent on both sides in making preparations.

As soon as the ominous conference just heard, was ended, Gauvain's first care was to call his lieutenant.

Guéchamp, whom it is necessary to know somewhat, was a man of secondary abilities, honest, fearless, ordinary, a better soldier than leader, strictly intelligent to the point where it was his duty to understand no further, never compassionate, inaccessible to corruption of any sort, to venality which corrupts conscience, as well as to pity which corrupts justice. Over his soul and his heart he had these two shades, discipline and order, as a horse has blinders over his two eyes, and he walked straight before him in the space which they left free to him. His gait was unswerving, but his path was narrow.

Moreover, he was a man to be depended upon; stern in command, unflinching in obedience.

Gauvain immediately addressed Guéchamp,—

"Guéchamp, a ladder."

"Commandant, we have none."

"We must have one."

"For climbing?"

"No, for rescue."

Guéchamp reflected and replied,—

"I understand. But for what you want, it must be very high."

"At least three stories."

"Yes, commander, that is very nearly the height."

"And it must exceed this to be sure of success."

"Certainly."

"How does it happen that you are without a ladder?"

"Commander, you did not consider the matter of besieging la Tourge from the plateau; you were satisfied to blockade it from this side; you wanted to attack it, not by the bridge, but by the tower. We have paid no attention to anything but the mine and gave up the escalade. That is why we have no ladders."

"Have one made immediately."

"A ladder three stories high cannot be improvised."

"Fasten together several short ladders."

"It is necessary to have short ones."

"Find them."

"They are not to be found. The peasants destroy the ladders everywhere, just as they break up the wagons and cut away the bridges."

"It is true; they want to paralyze the Republic."

"They want to make it impossible for us either to transport baggage, pass a river, or scale a wall."

"I must have a ladder, nevertheless."

"Now I think about it, commander, there is a large carpenter's shop at Javené, near Fougères. They may have one there."

"There is not a moment to lose."

"When do you wish to have the ladder?"

"To-morrow at this time at the very latest."

"I will send an express to Javené post haste. He will carry the order of requisition. There is cavalry stationed at Javené, which will furnish the escort. The ladder could be here to-morrow, before sunset."

"That is good, that will do," said Gauvain. "Be quick about it. Go."

Ten minutes later, Guéchamp returned and said to Gauvain,—

"Commander, the express has left for Javené."

Gauvain went up on the plateau, and remained a long time looking steadily at the bridge castle, which was just across the ravine. The gable of the châtelet, with no opening except the low entrance closed by raising the drawbridge, faced the escarpment of the ravine. To reach the foot of the piers of the bridge from the plateau, it was necessary to descend along this steep cliff, which was not impossible through the underbrush. But, once in the ditch, the assailants would be exposed to all the projectiles that could be rained down from the three stories. Gauvain came to the conclusion that, in view of the present state of the siege, the real assault must be by the breach in the tower.

He took every precaution to prevent the possibility of escape; he completed the close investment of la Tourgue; he drew the ranks of his battalions close together in such a way that nothing could pass through them. Gauvain and Cimourdain divided the investment of the fortress; Gauvain kept the side toward the forest, and gave the side next the plateau to Cimourdain. It was agreed that while Gauvain, aided by Guéchamp, was carrying on the assault by sapping, Cimourdain, with all the linstocks of the battery ready for use, should guard the bridge and the ravine.