Page:Ninety-three.djvu/317

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313
NINETY-THREE.

indistinct and huddled together, like a nest or a brood, and which looked as if it moved now and then.

She looked at it.

What was this little group of shadows?

Occasionally, it came into her mind that it resembled living forms; she was feverish, she had eaten nothing since morning, she had walked without resting, she was worn out, she felt as though she were in a sort of hallucination which she instinctively mistrusted; still, her eyes becoming more and more fixed, could not leave that dark heap of objects, probably inanimate, and apparently motionless, lying there on the floor of that hall above the fire.

Suddenly, the fire, as if it had a will power, sent forth from below, one of its jets, towards the great dead ivy covering the same front at which Michelle Fléchard was looking. It seemed as if the flame had just discovered this network of dry branches; a spark seized it eagerly, and began to mount along the shoots with the frightful swiftness of a train of powder. In a twinkling, the flame reached the second story. Then, from above, it lighted up the interior of the first. A sudden blaze brought into relief three little beings fast asleep.

It was a charming little heap,—arms and legs intertwined, eyelids closed, a smile on their fair faces.

The mother recognized her children.

She uttered a frightful cry.

This cry of inexpressible anguish is only given to mothers. Nothing is more fierce, and nothing more touching. When a woman utters it, one would think it was a she- wolf; when a she-wolf gives it, it sounds like a woman.

This cry of Michelle Fléchard's was a howl. Hecuba bayed, says Homer.

It was this cry which the Marquis de Lantenac had just heard.

We have seen that he stopped.

The marquis was between the outlet of the passage through which Halmalo had helped him to escape and the ravine. Through the brambles intertwined above him, he saw the bridge in flames, la Tourgue red from the reflection, and, through the opening between two branches, he saw above his head, on the other side, on