Ninety-three/3.2.13

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Ninety-three by Victor Hugo
What the Marquis Does.

CHAPTER XIII.

WHAT THE MARQUIS DOES.

While everything without was making ready for the attack, everything within was making ready for resistance.

There is a real analogy in calling a tower a "douve"[1] and a tower is sometimes pierced by a mine as a cask is by an auger. A bunghole, as it were, is bored through the wall. This is what happened at la Tourgue.

The powerful blast made by two or three hundredweight of powder had made a breach right through the enormous wall. This breach started at the foot of the tower, went through the thickest part of the wall, and ended in a rude arch in the ground floor of the fortress. In order to make this breach practicable for the assault, the besiegers had enlarged it outside and shaped it with cannon shots.

The ground floor into which this breach opened was a large round hall, quite bare, with a central column holding up the keystone of the arch. This hall, the largest in the keep, was no less than forty feet in diameter. Each story in the tower formed a similar room, but smaller, with little cells in the embrasures of the loopholes. The hall on the ground floor had no loopholes, no air holes, no windows; about as much daylight and fresh air as a tomb.

The door to the oubliettes, made of iron rather than wood, was in the hall of the ground floor. Another door in this hall opened on a staircase leading to the upper rooms. All the staircases were built in the thickness of the wall.

The besiegers had an opportunity to reach this low hall through the breach which they had made. This hall taken, it remained for them to take the tower.

No one had ever been able to breathe in this low hall. No one had ever spent twenty-four hours there without being asphyxiated. Now, owing to the breach, it was possible to live there.

This is why the beleaguered did not close the breach.

Moreover, what would be the advantage? The cannon would open it again.

They fixed an iron cresset into the wall, placed a torch in it, and this lighted the ground floor.

Now, how could they defend themselves there?

To wall up the breach was easy, but of no use. A retirade would be more desirable. A retirade is an intrenchment at right angles, a sort of chevronned barricade, which admits of converging the musketry on the assailants, and, while leaving the breach open outside, obstructs it on the inside. The materials were not lacking; they constructed a retirade, with embrasures through which to pass the barrels of the guns. The angle of the retirade rested on the central column; the two sides touched the wall. Having got this ready, they put fougades in suitable places.

The marquis directed everything. Inspirer, disposer, guide, and master,—appalling soul.

Lantenac belonged to that race of warriors of the eighteenth century who, when eighty years old, saved cities. He resembled the Count d'Alberg who, when he was nearly a centenarian, drove the King of Poland from Riga.

"Courage, friends!" said the marquis; "in the beginning of this century, in 1713, at Bender, Charles XII., shut up in a house, with three hundred Swedes, resisted twenty thousand Turks."

They barricaded the two lower stories, they fortified the rooms, they embattled the alcoves, they strengthened the doors with joists driven down with mallets, forming a sort of flying buttresses; but the spiral staircase which communicated with each story they had to leave open, as it was necessary to have free passage through it; to cut this off from the besieger was to cut it off from the besieged. The defence of strongholds always has some such weak side.

The marquis, indefatigable, as robust as a young man, lifted beams, carried stones, set an example, worked, commanded, helped, fraternized, laughed with this savage clan, but still he was always the seigneur, haughty, easy, elegant, cruel.

He allowed no one to reply to him.

He said: "If one half of you were to revolt, I would have that half shot by the other, and I would defend the place with the rest." Such things make a chief adored.


  1. Douve, a stave or cask.