The mother watched this dark object pass by, but had not understood it, nor tried to understand, for she had another vision before her eyes,—her children lost in the darkness.
She also went out of the village, a little after the procession which had just filed past, and followed the same road, at some distance behind the second squad of policemen. Suddenly, the word "guillotine" came into her mind.
"Guillotine!" she said to herself; this peasant woman Michelle Fléchard, did not know what it was, but her instinct warned her against it; she shuddered without being able to tell why; it seemed horrible to her to walk behind it, and she turned to the left, went out of the road and entered some woods, which were the forest of Fougères.
After roaming for some time, she noticed a church tower and some roofs; it was one of the villages on the borders of the wood; she entered it. She was hungry.
This village was one of those where the Republicans had established military posts.
She went as far as the square where the town hall was.
In this village, too, there was agitation and anxiety. A crowd was gathered in front of a flight of steps which were the entrance to the town hall. On these steps were seen a man escorted by soldiers, holding in his hand a large, unrolled placard. On this man's right stood a drummer, and on his left, a bill-poster carrying a pot of paste and a brush.
On the balcony above the door stood the mayor, wearing a tricolored scarf with his peasant's dress.
The man with the placard was a public crier.
He had on a shoulder belt from which hung a little bag, which indicated that he went from village to village, and that he had something to cry throughout the country.
He had just unrolled the placard, as Michelle Fléchard drew near, and he began to read it. He said in a loud voice,—
"The French Republic. One and indivisible."
The drum rolled. There was a sort of undulation in the crowd. Some took off their caps; others pulled their hats down over their eyes. At this time, and in this country, a person's opinion could almost be told by the headgear; hats were Royalist, caps were Republican. The murmur of confused voices ceased, the people listened, the crier read,—
"In virtue of the orders to us given, and the power to us delegated, by the Committee of Public Welfare——"
There was a second rolling of the drum. The crier continued,—
"And in execution of the decree of the National Convention, which outlaws rebels taken armed, and which orders capital punishment to whoever gives them shelter or helps them to escape."
One peasant asked his neighbor in a low voice,—
"What is capital punishment?"
The neighbor replied, "I don't know."
The crier waved the placard,—
"In accordance with Article 17 of the law of the thirtieth of April, giving full power to delegates and sub-delegates against the rebels, are outlawed—"
He paused and added,—
"The individuals designated by the name and surnames which follow—"
The crowd was all attention.
The voice of the crier thundered,—
"That is monseigneur," murmured a peasant.
And this was whispered through the crowd, "That is monseigneur."
The crier added,—
"Lantenac, ci-devant marquis, brigand."
Two peasants looked at each other askance.
"That is Gouge-le-Bruant."
"Yes, it is Brise-Bleu."
The crier went on reading the list,—
The crowd murmured,—
"He is a priest."
"Yes, monsieur the Abbé Turmeau."
"Yes, he is a curé somewhere near the wood of la Chapelle."
"And a brigand," said a man in a cap.
The crier read,—
"Boisnouveau, brigand. The two brothers Pique-en-Bois, brigands. Houzard, brigand——"
"That is Monsieur de Quélen," said a peasant.
"That is Monsieur Sepher."
"That is Monsieur Jamois."
The crier continued his reading without paying attention to these comments.
"Guinoiseau, brigand. Chatenay, called Robi, brigand——"
A peasant whispered: "Guinoiseau is the same as le Blond, Chatenay is Saint-Ouen."
"Hoisnard, brigand," added the crier.
And in the crowd was heard,—
"He is from Ruillé."
"Yes, that is Branche d'Or."
"He had his brother killed at the attack at Pontorson."
"A fine young man, nineteen years old."
"Attention," said the crier, "Here is the end of the list,—"
"Belle-Vigne, brigand. La Mussette, brigand. Sabretout, brigand. Brin-d'Amour, brigand——"
A boy nudged a girl's elbow. The girl smiled.
The crier went on,—
"Chante-en-hiver, brigand. Le Chat, brigand——"
A peasant said: "That is Moulard."
A peasant said: "That is Gauffre."
"There are two of the Gauffres," added a woman.
"Both good fellows," growled a rustic.
The crier shook the placard and the drum beat a ban.
The crier began to read again,—
"The above named, in whatever place they may be taken, will be immediately put to death after their identity has been established."
There was a stir in the crowd.
The crier added,—
"Whoever gives them shelter, or helps them to escape will be taken before a court-martial and put to death. Signed—"
There was a profound silence.
"Signed: The Delegate of the Committee of Public Welfare, Cimourdain."
"A priest," said a peasant.
"The former curé of Parigné." said another.
A citizen added,—
"Turmeau and Cimourdain. A White priest, and a Blue priest."
"Both black," said another citizen.
The mayor standing on the balcony, raised his hat and cried,—
"Long live the Republic!"
The beating of the drum announced that the crier had finished. Indeed, he made a sign with his hand.
"Attention," he said. "Here are the four last lines of the notice of the government. They are signed by the chief of the reconnoitring column of the coasts of the north commanded by Gauvain."
"Listen!" cried the voices of the crowd.
And the crier read,—
"Under pain of death—"
All were silent.
"It is forbidden, in fulfilment of the above order, to aid and assist the nineteen rebels above named, who are at the present time invested and surrounded in la Tourgue."
"Hey?" said a voice.
It was a woman's voice. It was the voice of the mother.