On the day following this extraordinary series of adventures, explanations between those who were mixed up in them, whether as actors or spectators, were the order of the day. It was not till Maitre Quennebert reached the house of the friend who had offered to put him up for the night that it first dawned on him, that the interest which the Chevalier de Moranges had awakened in his mind had made him utterly forget the bag containing the twelve hundred livres which he owed to the generosity of the widow. This money being necessary to him, he went back to her early next morning. He found her hardly recovered from her terrible fright. Her swoon had lasted far beyond the time when the notary had left the house; and as Angelique, not daring to enter the bewitched room, had taken refuge in the most distant corner of her apartments, the feeble call of the widow was heard by no one. Receiving no answer, Madame Rapally groped her way into the next room, and finding that empty, buried herself beneath the bedclothes, and passed the rest of the night dreaming of drawn swords, duels, and murders. As soon as it was light she ventured into the mysterious room once more; without calling her servants, and found the bag of crowns lying open on the floor, with the coins scattered all around, the partition broken, and the tapestry hanging from it in shreds. The widow was near fainting again: she imagined at first she saw stains of blood everywhere, but a closer inspection having somewhat reassured her, she began to pick up the coins that had rolled to right and left, and was agreeably surprised to find the tale complete. But how and why had Maitre Quennebert abandoned them? What had become of him? She had got lost in the most absurd suppositions and conjectures when the notary appeared. Discovering from the first words she uttered that she was in complete ignorance of all that had taken place, he explained to her that when the interview between the chevalier and Mademoiselle de Guerchi had just at the most interesting moment been so unceremoniously interrupted by the arrival of the duke, he had become so absorbed in watching them that he had not noticed that the partition was bending before the pressure of his body, and that just as the duke drew his sword it suddenly gave way, and he, Quennebert, being thus left without support, tumbled head foremost into the next room, among a perfect chaos of overturned furniture and lamps; that almost before he could rise he was forced to draw in self-defence, and had to make his escape, defending himself against both the duke and the chevalier; that they had pursued him so hotly, that when he found himself free he was too far from the house and the hour was too advanced to admit of his returning, Quennebert added innumerable protestations of friendship, devotion, and gratitude, and, furnished with his twelve hundred crowns, went away, leaving the widow reassured as to his safety, but still shaken from her fright.
While the notary was thus soothing the widow, Angelique was exhausting all the expedients her trade had taught her in the attempt to remove the duke's suspicions. She asserted she was the victim of an unforeseen attack which nothing in her conduct had ever authorised. The young Chevalier de Moranges had, gained admittance, she declared, under the pretext that he brought her news from the duke, the one man who occupied her thoughts, the sole object of her love. The chevalier had seen her lover, he said, a few days before, and by cleverly appealing to things back, he had led her to fear that the duke had grown tired of her, and that a new conquest was the cause of his absence. She had not believed these insinuations, although his long silence would have justified the most mortifying suppositions, the most cruel doubts. At length the chevalier had grown bolder, and had declared his passion for her; whereupon she had risen and ordered him to leave her. Just at that moment the duke had entered, and had taken the natural agitation and confusion of the chevalier as signs of her guilt. Some explanation was also necessary to account for the presence of the two other visitors of whom he had been told below stairs. As he knew nothing at all about them, the servant who admitted them never having seen either of them before, she acknowledged that two gentlemen had called earlier in the evening; that they had refused to send in their names, but as they had said they had come to inquire about the duke, she suspected them of having been in league with the chevalier in the attempt to ruin her reputation, perhaps they had even promised to help him to carry her off, but she knew nothing positive about them or their plans. The duke, contrary to his wont, did not allow himself to be easily convinced by these lame explanations, but unfortunately for him the lady knew how to assume an attitude favourable to her purpose. She had been induced, she said, with the simple confidence born of love, to listen to people who had led her to suppose they could give her news of one so dear to her as the duke. From this falsehood she proceeded to bitter reproaches: instead of defending herself, she accused him of having left her a prey to anxiety; she went so far as to imply that there must be some foundation for the hints of the chevalier, until at last the duke, although he was not guilty of the slightest infidelity, and had excellent reasons to give in justification of his silence, was soon reduced to a penitent mood, and changed his threats into entreaties for forgiveness. As to the shriek he had heard, and which he was sure had been uttered by the stranger who had forced his way into her room after the departure of the others, she asserted that his ears must have deceived him. Feeling that therein lay her best chance of making things smooth, she exerted herself to convince him that there was no need for other information than she could give, and did all she could to blot the whole affair from his memory; and her success was such that at the end of the interview the duke was more enamoured and more credulous than ever, and believing he had done her wrong, he delivered himself up to her, bound hand and foot. Two days later he installed his mistress in another dwelling....
Madame Rapally also resolved to give up her rooms, and removed to a house that belonged to her, on the Pont Saint-Michel.
The commander took the condition of Charlotte Boullenois very much to heart. The physician under whose care he had placed her, after examining her wounds, had not given much hope of her recovery. It was not that de Jars was capable of a lasting love, but Charlotte was young and possessed great beauty, and the romance and mystery surrounding their connection gave it piquancy. Charlotte's disguise, too, which enabled de Jars to conceal his success and yet flaunt it in the face, as it were, of public morality and curiosity, charmed him by its audacity, and above all he was carried away by the bold and uncommon character of the girl, who, not content with a prosaic intrigue, had trampled underfoot all social prejudices and proprieties, and plunged at once into unmeasured and unrestrained dissipation; the singular mingling in her nature of the vices of both sexes; the unbridled licentiousness of the courtesan coupled with the devotion of a man for horses, wine, and fencing; in short, her eccentric character, as it would now be called, kept a passion alive which would else have quickly died away in his blase heart. Nothing would induce him to follow Jeannin's advice to leave Paris for at least a few weeks, although he shared Jeannin's fear that the statement they had been forced to give the stranger would bring them into trouble. The treasurer, who had no love affair on hand, went off; but the commander bravely held his ground, and at the end of five or six days, during which no one disturbed him, began to think the only result of the incident would be the anxiety it had caused him.
Every evening as soon as it was dark he betook himself to the doctor's, wrapped in his cloak, armed to the teeth, and his hat pulled down over his eyes. For two days and nights, Charlotte, whom to avoid confusion we shall continue to call the Chevalier de Moranges, hovered between life and death. Her youth and the strength of her constitution enabled her at last to overcome the fever, in spite of the want of skill of the surgeon Perregaud.
Although de Jars was the only person who visited the chevalier, he was not the only one who was anxious about the patient's health. Maitre Quennebert, or men engaged by him to watch, for he did not want to attract attention, were always prowling about the neighbourhood, so that he was kept well informed of everything that went on: The instructions he gave to these agents were, that if a funeral should leave the house, they were to find out the name of the deceased, and then to let him know without delay. But all these precautions seemed quite useless: he always received the same answer to all his questions, "We know nothing." So at last he determined to address himself directly to the man who could give him information on which he could rely.
One night the commander left the surgeon's feeling more cheerful than usual, for the chevalier had passed a good day, and there was every hope that he was on the road to complete recovery. Hardly had de Jars gone twenty paces when someone laid a hand on his shoulder. He turned and saw a man whom, in the darkness, he did not recognise.
"Excuse me for detaining you, Commander de Jars," said Quennebert, "but I have a word to say to you."
"Ali! so it's you, sir," replied the commander. "Are you going at last to give me the opportunity I was so anxious for?"
"I don't understand."
"We are on more equal terms this time; to-day you don't catch me unprepared, almost without weapons, and if you are a man of honour you will measure swords with me."
"Fight a duel with you! why, may I ask? You have never insulted me."
"A truce to pleasantry, sir; don't make me regret that I have shown myself more generous than you. I might have killed you just now had I wished. I could have put my pistol to your breast and fired, or said to you, 'Surrender at discretion!' as you so lately said to me."
"And what use would that have been?"
"It would have made a secret safe that you ought never to have known."
"It would have been the most unfortunate thing for you that could have happened, for if you had killed me the paper would have spoken. So! you think that if you were to assassinate me you would only have to stoop over my dead body and search my pockets, and, having found the incriminating document, destroy it. You seem to have formed no very high opinion of my intelligence and common sense. You of the upper classes don't need these qualities, the law is on, your side. But when a humble individual like myself, a mere nobody, undertakes to investigate a piece of business about which those in authority are not anxious to be enlightened, precautions are necessary. It's not enough for him to have right on his side, he must, in order to secure his own safety, make good use of his skill, courage, and knowledge. I have no desire to humiliate you a second time, so I will say no more. The paper is in the hands of my notary, and if a single day passes without his seeing me he has orders to break the seal and make the contents public. So you see chance is still on my side. But now that you are warned there is no need for me to bluster. I am quite prepared to acknowledge your superior rank, and if you insist upon it, to speak to you uncovered."
"What do you desire to know, sir?"
"How is the Chevalier de Moranges getting on?"
"Very badly, very badly."
"Take care, commander; don't deceive me. One is so easily tempted to believe what one hopes, and I hope so strongly that I dare not believe what you say. I saw you coming out of the house, not at all with the air of a man who had just heard bad news, (quite the contrary) you looked at the sky, and rubbed your hands, and walked with a light, quick step, that did not speak of grief."
"You're a sharp observer, sir."
"I have already explained to you, sir, that when one of us belonging to a class hardly better than serfs succeeds by chance or force of character in getting out of the narrow bounds in which he was born, he must keep both eyes and ears open. If I had doubted your word as you have doubted mine on the merest suspicion, you would have said to your servants, 'Chastise this rascal.' But I am obliged to prove to you that you did not tell me the truth. Now I am sure that the chevalier is out of danger."
"If you were so well informed why did you ask me?"
"I only knew it by your asserting the contrary."
"What do you mean?" cried de Jars, who was growing restive under this cold, satirical politeness.
"Do me justice, commander. The bit chafes, but yet you must acknowledge that I have a light hand. For a full week you have been in my power. Have I disturbed your quiet? Have I betrayed your secret? You know I have not. And I shall continue to act in the same manner. I hope with all my heart, however great would be your grief; that the chevalier may die of his wound. I have not the same reasons for loving him that you have, so much you can readily understand, even if I do not explain the cause of my interest in his fate. But in such a matter hopes count for nothing; they cannot make his temperature either rise or fall. I have told you I have no wish to force the chevalier to resume his real name. I may make use of the document and I may not, but if I am obliged to use it I shall give you warning. Will you, in return, swear to me upon your honour that you will keep me informed as to the fate of the chevalier, whether you remain in Paris or whether you leave? But let this agreement be a secret between us, and do not mention it to the so-called Moranges."
"I have your oath, monsieur, that you will give me notice before you use the document I have given you against me, have I? But what guarantee have I that you will keep your word?"
"My course of action till to-day, and the fact that I have pledged you my word of my own free will."
"I see, you hope not to have long to wait for the end."
"I hope not; but meantime a premature disclosure would do me as much harm as you. I have not the slightest rancour against you, commander; you have robbed me of no treasure; I have therefore no compensation to demand. What you place such value on would be only a burden to me, as it will be to you later on. All I want is, to know as soon as it is no longer in your possession, whether it has been removed by the will of God or by your own, I am right in thinking that to-day there is some hope of the chevalier's recovery, am I not?"
"Do you give me your promise that if ever he leave this house safe and sound you will let me know?"
"I give you my promise,"
"And if the result should be different, you will also send me word?"
"Certainly. But to whom shall I address my message?"
"I should have thought that since our first meeting you would have found out all about me, and that to tell you my name would be superfluous. But I have no reason to hide it: Maitre Quennebert, notary, Saint-Denis. I will not detain you any longer now, commander; excuse a simple citizen for dictating conditions to a noble such as you. For once chance has been on my side although a score of times it has gone against me."
De Jars made no reply except a nod, and walked away quickly, muttering words of suppressed anger between his teeth at all the--humiliations to which he had been obliged to submit so meekly.
"He's as insolent as a varlet who has no fear of a larruping before his eyes: how the rapscallion gloried in taking advantage of his position! Taking-off his hat while putting his foot on my neck! If ever I can be even with you, my worthy scrivener, you'll pass a very bad quarter of an hour, I can tell you."
Everyone has his own idea of what constitutes perfect honour. De Jars, for instance, would have allowed himself to be cut up into little pieces rather than have broken the promise he had given Quennebert a week ago, because it was given in exchange for his life, and the slightest paltering with his word under those circumstances would have been dastardly. But the engagement into which he had just entered had in his eyes no such moral sanction; he had not been forced into it by threats, he had escaped by its means no serious danger, and therefore in regard to it his conscience was much more accommodating. What he should best have liked to do, would have been to have sought out the notary and provoked him by insults to send him a challenge.
That a clown such as that could have any chance of leaving the ground alive never entered his head. But willingly as he would have encompassed his death in this manner, the knowledge that his secret would not die with Quennebert restrained him, for when everything came out he felt that the notary's death would be regarded as an aggravation of his original offence, and in spite of his rank he was not at all certain that if he were put on his trial even now he would escape scot free, much less if a new offence were added to the indictment. So, however much he might chafe against the bit, he felt he must submit to the bridle.
"By God!" said he, "I know what the clodhopper is after; and even if I must suffer in consequence, I shall take good care that he cannot shake off his bonds. Wait a bit! I can play the detective too, and be down on him without letting him see the hand that deals the blows. It'll be a wonder if I can't find a naked sword to suspend above his head."
However, while thus brooding over projects of vengeance, Commander de Jars kept his word, and about a month after the interview above related he sent word to Quennebert that the Chevalier de Moranges had left Perregaud's completely recovered from his wound. But the nearly fatal result of the chevalier's last prank seemed to have subdued his adventurous spirit; he was no longer seen in public, and was soon forgotten by all his acquaintances with the exception of Mademoiselle de Guerchi. She faithfully treasured up the memory of his words of passion, his looks of love, the warmth of his caresses, although at first she struggled hard to chase his image from her heart. But as the Due de Vitry assured her that he had killed him on the spot, she considered it no breach of faith to think lovingly of the dead, and while she took the goods so bounteously provided by her living lover, her gentlest thoughts, her most enduring regrets, were given to one whom she never hoped to see again.
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