In the meantime, a few steps from him his lieutenant, Guéchamp, with a spyglass in his hand, was scrutinizing the horizon toward Parigné. Suddenly Guechamp exclaimed,—
"Ah! at last!"
This exclamation roused Gauvain from his reverie.
"What is it, Guéchamp?"
"Commander, there is the ladder."
"The escape ladder?"
"What? Hasn't it come yet?"
"No, commander. I was anxious about it. The express which I sent to Javené has returned."
"I know it."
"He announced that, in the carpenter's shop at Javené, he had found a ladder of the required length, that he had it requisitioned, that he had the ladder put on a wagon, that he obtained an escort of twelve horsemen, and that he had seen the wagon, the escort, and the ladder start for Parigné. After which he returned post haste."
"And gave us this report, and he added that as the wagon was drawn by strong horses, and started about two o'clock in the morning, it would be here before sunset. I know all that. Well?"
"Well, commander, the sun has just set and the wagon with the ladder has not yet come."
"Is it possible? Nevertheless, we must begin the attack. The hour has come. If we delay, the besieged will think we are retreating."
"Commander, you can begin the attack."
"But we must have the escape ladder."
"But it is not here."
"It is here."
"How is that?"
"That is why I said, 'Ah! at last!' The wagon had not come; I took my spyglass and examined the road from Parigné to la Tourgue, and, commander, I am satisfied. The wagon is yonder with the escort; it is coming down the slope. You can see it."
Gauvain took his spyglass and looked.
"To be sure. Here it is. There is not enough daylight left to make it all out. But I see the escort; that is