We left de Jars and Jeannin, roaring with laughter, in the tavern in the rue Saint Andre-des-Arts.
"What!" said the treasurer, "do you really think that Angelique thought I was in earnest in my offer?--that she believes in all good faith I intend to marry her?"
"You may take my word for it. If it were not so, do you imagine she would have been in such desperation? Would she have fainted at my threat to tell you that I had claims on her as well as you? To get married! Why, that is the goal of all such creatures, and there is not one of them who can understand why a man of honour should blush to give her his name. If you had only seen her terror, her tears! They would have either broken your heart or killed you with laughter."
"Well," said Jeannin, "it is getting late. Are we going to wait for the chevalier?"
"Let us call, for him."
"Very well. Perhaps he has made up his mind to stay. If so, we shall make a horrible scene, cry treachery and perjury, and trounce your nephew well. Let's settle our score and be off."
They left the wine-shop, both rather the worse for the wine they had so largely indulged in. They felt the need of the cool night air, so instead of going down the rue Pavee they resolved to follow the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts as far as the Pont Saint-Michel, so as to reach the mansion by a longer route.
At the very moment the commander got up to leave the tavern the chevalier had run out of the mansion at the top of his speed. It was not that he had entirely lost his courage, for had he found it impossible to avoid his assailant it is probable that he would have regained the audacity which had led him to draw his sword. But he was a novice in the use of arms, had not reached full physical development, and felt that the chances were so much against him that he would only have faced the encounter if there were no possible way of escape. On leaving the house he had turned quickly into the rue Git-le-Coeur; but on hearing the door close behind his pursuer he disappeared down the narrow and crooked rue de l'Hirondelle, hoping to throw the Duc de Vitry off the scent. The duke, however, though for a moment in doubt, was guided by the sound of the flying footsteps. The chevalier, still trying to send him off on a false trail, turned to the right, and so regained the upper end of the rue Saint-Andre, and ran along it as far as the church, the site of which is occupied by the square of the same name to-day. Here he thought he would be safe, for, as the church was being restored and enlarged, heaps of stone stood all round the old pile. He glided in among these, and twice heard Vitry searching quite close to him, and each time stood on guard expecting an onslaught. This marching and counter-marching lasted for some minutes; the chevalier began to hope he had escaped the danger, and eagerly waited for the moment when the moon which had broken through the clouds should again withdraw behind them, in order to steal into some of the adjacent streets under cover of the darkness. Suddenly a shadow rose before him and a threatening voice cried--
"Have I caught you at last, you coward?"
The danger in which the chevalier stood awoke in him a flickering energy, a feverish courage, and he crossed blades with his assailant. A strange combat ensued, of which the result was quite uncertain, depending entirely on chance; for no science was of any avail on a ground so rough that the combatants stumbled at every step, or struck against immovable masses, which were one moment clearly lit up, and the next in shadow. Steel clashed on steel, the feet of the adversaries touched each other, several times the cloak of one was pierced by the sword of the other, more than once the words "Die then!" rang out. But each time the seemingly vanquished combatant sprang up unwounded, as agile and as lithe and as quick as ever, while he in his turn pressed the enemy home. There was neither truce nor pause, no clever feints nor fencer's tricks could be employed on either side; it was a mortal combat, but chance, not skill, would deal the death-blow. Sometimes a rapid pass encountered only empty air; sometimes blade crossed blade above the wielders' heads; sometimes the fencers lunged at each other's breast, and yet the blows glanced aside at the last moment and the blades met in air once more. At last, however, one of the two, making a pass to the right which left his breast unguarded, received a deep wound. Uttering a loud cry, he recoiled a step or two, but, exhausted by the effort, tripped and fell backward over a large stone, and lay there motionless, his arms extended in the form of a cross.
The other turned and fled.
"Hark, de Jars!" said Jeannin, stopping, "There's fighting going on hereabouts; I hear the clash of swords."
Both listened intently.
"I hear nothing now."
"Hush! there it goes again. It's by the church."
"What a dreadful cry!"
They ran at full speed towards the place whence it seemed to come, but found only solitude, darkness, and silence. They looked in every direction.
"I can't see a living soul," said Jeannin, "and I very much fear that the poor devil who gave that yell has mumbled his last prayer,"
"I don't know why I tremble so," replied de Jars; "that heart-rending cry made me shiver from head to foot. Was it not something like the chevalier's voice?"
"The chevalier is with La Guerchi, and even if he had left her this would not have been his way to rejoin us. Let us go on and leave the dead in peace."
"Look, Jeannin! what is that in front of us?"
"On that stone? A man who has fallen!"
"Yes, and bathed in blood," exclaimed de Jars, who had darted to his side. "Ah! it's he! it's he! Look, his eyes are closed, his hands cold! My child he does not hear me! Oh, who has murdered him?"
He fell on his knees, and threw himself on the body with every mark of the most violent despair.
"Come, come," said Jeannin, surprised at such an explosion of grief from a man accustomed to duels, and who on several similar occasions had been far from displaying much tenderness of heart, "collect yourself, and don't give way like a woman. Perhaps the wound is not mortal. Let us try to stop the bleeding and call for help."
"Are you mad?"
"Don't call, for Heaven's sake! The wound is here, near the heart. Your handkerchief, Jeannin, to arrest the flow of blood. There--now help me to lift him."
"What does that mean?" cried Jeannin, who had just laid his hand on the chevalier. "I don't know whether I'm awake or asleep! Why, it's a---"
"Be silent, on your life! I shall explain everything--but now be silent; there is someone looking at us."
There was indeed a man wrapped in a mantle standing motionless some steps away.
"What are you doing here?" asked de Jars.
"May I ask what you are doing, gentlemen?" retorted Maitre Quennebert, in a calm and steady voice.
"Your curiosity may cost you dear, monsieur; we are not in the habit of allowing our actions to be spied on."
"And I am not in the habit of running useless risks, most noble cavaliers. You are, it is true, two against one; but," he added, throwing back his cloak and grasping the hilts of a pair of pistols tucked in his belt, "these will make us equal. You are mistaken as to my intentions. I had no thought of playing the spy; it was chance alone that led me here; and you must acknowledge that finding you in this lonely spot, engaged as you are at this hour of the night, was quite enough to awake the curiosity of a man as little disposed to provoke a quarrel as to submit to threats."
"It was chance also that brought us here. We were crossing the square, my friend and I, when we heard groans. We followed the sound, and found this young gallant, who is a stranger to us, lying here, with a wound in his breast."
As the moon at that moment gleamed doubtfully forth, Maitre Quennebert bent for an instant over the body of the wounded man, and said:
"I know him more than you. But supposing someone were to come upon us here, we might easily be taken for three assassins holding a consultation over the corpse of our victim. What were you going to do?"
"Take him to a doctor. It would be inhuman to leave him here, and while we are talking precious time is being lost."
"Do you belong to this neighbourhood?"
"No," said the treasurer.
"Neither do I," said Quennebert. "but I believe I have heard the name of a surgeon who lives close by, in the rue Hauteville."
"I also know of one," interposed de Jars, "a very skilful man."
"You may command me."
"Gladly, monsieur; for he lives some distance from here."
"I am at your service."
De Jars and Jeannin raised the chevalier's shoulders, and the stranger supported his legs, and carrying their burden in this order, they set off.
They walked slowly, looking about them carefully, a precaution rendered necessary by the fact that the moon now rode in a cloudless sky. They glided over the Pont Saint-Michel between the houses that lined both sides, and, turning to the right, entered one of the narrow streets of the Cite, and after many turnings, during which they met no one, they stopped at the door of a house situated behind the Hotel-de-Ville.
"Many thanks, monsieur," said de Jars,--"many thanks; we need no further help."
As the commander spoke, Maitre Quennebert let the feet of the chevalier fall abruptly on the pavement, while de Jars and the treasurer still supported his body, and, stepping back two paces, he drew his pistols from his belt, and placing a finger on each trigger, said--
"Do not stir, messieurs, or you are dead men." Both, although encumbered by their burden, laid their hands upon their swords.
"Not a movement, not a sound, or I shoot."
There was no reply to this argument, it being a convincing one even for two duellists. The bravest man turns pale when he finds himself face to face with sudden inevitable death, and he who threatened seemed to be one who would, without hesitation, carry out his threats. There was nothing for it but obedience, or a ball through them as they stood.
"What do you want with us, sir?" asked Jeannin.
Quennebert, without changing his attitude, replied--
"Commander de Jars, and you, Messire Jeannin de Castille, king's treasurer,--you see, my gentles, that besides the advantage of arms which strike swiftly and surely, I have the further advantage of knowing who you are, whilst I am myself unknown,--you will carry the wounded man into this house, into which I will not enter, for I have nothing to do within; but I shall remain here; to await your return. After you have handed over the patient to the doctor, you will procure paper and write---now pay great attention--that on November 20th, 1658, about midnight, you, aided by an unknown man, carried to this house, the address of which you will give, a young man whom you call the Chevalier de Moranges, and pass off as your nephew--"
"As he really is."
"But who told you--?"
"Let me go on: who had been wounded in a fight with swords on the same night behind the church of Saint-Andre-des-Arts by the Duc de Vitry."
"The Duc de Vitry!--How do you know that?"
"No matter how, I know it for a fact. Having made this declaration, you will add that the said Chevalier de Moranges is no other than Josephine-Charlotte Boullenois, whom you, commander, abducted four months ago from the convent of La Raquette, whom you have made your mistress, and whom you conceal disguised as a man; then you will add your signature. Is my information correct?"
De Jars and Jeannin were speechless with surprise for a few instants; then the former stammered--
"Will you tell us who you are?"
"The devil in person, if you like. Well, will you do as I order? Supposing that I am awkward enough not to kill you at two paces, do you want me to ask you in broad daylight and aloud what I now ask at night and in a whisper? And don't think to put me off with a false declaration, relying on my not being able to read it by the light of the moon; don't think either that you can take me by surprise when you hand it me: you will bring it to me with your swords sheathed as now. If this condition is not observed, I shall fire, and the noise will bring a crowd about us. To-morrow I shall speak differently from to-day: I shall proclaim the truth at all the street corners, in the squares, and under the windows of the Louvre. It is hard, I know, for men of spirit to yield to threats, but recollect that you are in my power and that there is no disgrace in paying a ransom for a life that one cannot defend. What do you say?"
In spite of his natural courage, Jeannin, who found himself involved in an affair from which he had nothing to gain, and who was not at all desirous of being suspected of having helped in an abduction, whispered to the commander--
"Faith! I think our wisest course is to consent."
De Jars, however, before replying, wished to try if he could by any chance throw his enemy off his guard for an instant, so as to take him unawares. His hand still rested on the hilt of his sword, motionless, but ready to draw.
"There is someone coming over yonder," he cried,--"do you hear?"
"You can't catch me in that way," said Quennebert. "Even were there anyone coming, I should not look round, and if you move your hand all is over with you."
"Well," said Jeannin, "I surrender at discretion--not on my own account, but out of regard for my friend and this woman. However, we are entitle to some pledge of your silence. This statement that you demand, once written,--you can ruin us tomorrow by its means."
"I don't yet know what use I shall make of it, gentlemen. Make up your minds, or you will have nothing but a dead body to place--in the doctor's hands. There is no escape for you."
For the first time the wounded man faintly groaned.
"I must save her!" cried de Jars,--"I yield."
"And I swear upon my honour that I will never try to get this woman out of your hands, and that I will never interfere with your conquest. Knock, gentlemen, and remain as long as may be necessary. I am patient. Pray to God, if you will, that she may recover; my one desire is that she may die."
They entered the house, and Quennebert, wrapping himself once more in his mantle, walked up and down before it, stopping to listen from time to time. In about two hours the commander and the treasurer came out again, and handed him a written paper in the manner agreed on.
"I greatly fear that it will be a certificate of death," said de Jars.
"Heaven grant it, commander! Adieu, messieurs."
He then withdrew, walking backwards, keeping the two friends covered with his pistols until he had placed a sufficient distance between himself and them to be out of danger of an attack.
The two gentlemen on their part walked rapidly away, looking round from time to time, and keeping their ears open. They were very much mortified at having been forced to let a mere boor dictate to them, and anxious, especially de Jars, as to the result of the wound.
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