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Title: La Constantin - Celebrated Crimes
Author: Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "La Constantin - Celebrated Crimes" ***

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                             *A CONSTANTIN*

                                  _By_

                        *Alexandre Dumas, Pere*

            _From the Eight Volume set "Celebrated Crimes"_


                                  1910



CONTENTS


    CONTENTS
    *LA CONSTANTIN—1660*
    CHAPTER I
    CHAPTER II
    CHAPTER III
    CHAPTER IV
    CHAPTER V
    CHAPTER VI
    CHAPTER VII
    CHAPTER VIII
    CHAPTER IX



*LA CONSTANTIN—1660*



CHAPTER I


Before beginning our story, we must warn the reader that it will not be
worth his while to make researches among contemporary or other records
as to the personage whose name it bears. For in truth neither Marie
Leroux, widow of Jacques Constantin, nor her accomplice, Claude
Perregaud, was of sufficient importance to find a place on any list of
great criminals, although it is certain that they were guilty of the
crimes with which they were charged. It may seem strange that what
follows is more a history of the retribution which overtook the
criminals than a circumstantial description of the deeds for which they
were punished; but the crimes were so revolting, and so unsuitable for
discussion, that it was impossible for us to enter into any details on
the subject, so that what we offer in these pages is, we confess quite
openly, not a full, true, and particular account of a certain series of
events leading up to a certain result; it is not even a picture wherein
that result is depicted with artistic completeness, it is only an
imperfect narrative imperfectly rounded off. We feel sure, however, that
the healthy-minded reader will be grateful for our reticence and total
disregard of proportion. In spite of the disadvantage which such a theme
imposes on any writer with a deep sense of responsibility, we have
resolved to let in some light on these obscure figures; for we can
imagine no more effective way of throwing into high relief the low
morals and deep corruption into which all classes of society had sunk at
the termination of the factious dissensions of the Fronde, which formed
such a fitting prelude to the licence of the reign of the grand roi.

After this explanation, we shall, without further preamble, introduce
the reader to a little tavern in Paris, situated in the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts, on an evening in November 1658.

It was about seven o’clock. Three gentlemen were seated at one of the
tables in a low, smoky room. They had already emptied several bottles,
and one of them seemed to have just suggested some madcap scheme to the
others, the thought of which sent them off into shouts of laughter.

"Pardu!" said one of them, who was the first to recover his breath, "I
must say it would be an excellent trick."

"Splendid!" said another; "and if you like, Commander de Jars, we can
try it this very evening."

"All right, my worthy king’s treasurer, provided my pretty nephew here
won’t be too much shocked," and as he spoke de Jars gave to the youngest
of the three a caressing touch on the cheek with the back of his hand.

"That reminds me, de Jars!" said the treasurer, "that word you have just
said piques my curiosity. For some months now this little fellow here,
Chevalier de Moranges, follows you about everywhere like your shadow.
You never told us you had a nephew. Where the devil did you get him?"

The commander touched the chevalier’s knee under the table, and he, as
if to avoid speaking, slowly filled and emptied his glass.

"Look here," said the treasurer, "do you want to hear a few plain words,
such as I shall rap out when God takes me to task about the peccadilloes
of my past life? I don’t believe a word about the relationship. A nephew
must be the son of either a brother or a sister. Now, your only sister
is an abbess, and your late brother’s marriage was childless. There is
only one way of proving the relationship, and that is to confess that
when your brother was young and wild he and Love met, or else Madame
l’Abbesse——."

"Take care, Treasurer Jeannin! no slander against my sister!"

"Well, then, explain; you can’t fool me! May I be hanged if I leave this
place before I have dragged the secret out of you! Either we are friends
or we are not. What you tell no one else you ought to tell me. What!
would you make use of my purse and my sword on occasion and yet have
secrets from me? It’s too bad: speak, or our friendship is at an end! I
give you fair warning that I shall find out everything and publish it
abroad to court and city: when I strike a trail there’s no turning me
aside. It will be best for you to whisper your secret voluntarily into
my ear, where it will be as safe as in the grave."

"How full of curiosity you are, my good friend!" said de Jars, leaning
one elbow on the table, and twirling the points of his moustache with
his hand; "but if I were to wrap my secret round the point of a dagger
would you not be too much afraid of pricking your fingers to pull it
off?"

"Not I," said the king’s treasurer, beginning to twirl his moustache
also: "the doctors have always told me that I am of too full a
complexion and that it would do me all the good in the world to be bled
now and then. But what would be an advantage to me would be dangerous to
you. It’s easy to see from your jaundiced phiz that for you
blood-letting is no cure."

"And you would really go that length? You would risk a duel if I refused
to let you get to the bottom of my mystery?"

"Yes, on my honour! Well, how is it to be?"

"My dear boy," said de Jars to the youth, "we are caught, and may as
well yield gracefully. You don’t know this big fellow as well as I do.
He’s obstinacy itself. You can make the most obstinate donkey go on by
pulling its tail hard enough, but when Jeannin gets a notion into his
pate, not all the legions of hell can get it out again. Besides that,
he’s a skilful fencer, so there’s nothing for it but to trust him."

"Just as you like," said the young man; "you know all my circumstances
and how important it is that my secret should be kept."

"Oh! among Jeannin’s many vices there are a few virtues, and of these
discretion is the greatest, so that his curiosity is harmless. A quarter
of an hour hence he will let himself be killed rather than reveal what
just now he is ready to risk his skin to find out, whether we will or
no."

Jeannin nodded approvingly, refilled the glasses, and raising his to his
lips, said in a tone of triumph—

"I am listening, commander."

"Well, if it must be, it must. First of all, learn that my nephew is not
my nephew at all."

"Go on."

"That his name is not Moranges."

"And the next?"

"I am not going to reveal his real name to you."

"Why not?"

"Because I don’t know it myself, and no more does the chevalier."

"What’ nonsense!"

"No nonsense at all, but the sober truth. A few months ago the chevalier
came to Paris, bringing me a letter of introduction from a German whom I
used to know years ago. This letter requested me to look after the
bearer and help him in his investigations. As you said just now, Love
and someone once met somewhere, and that was about all was known as to
his origin. Naturally the young man wants to cut a figure in the world,
and would like to discover the author of his existence, that he may have
someone at hand to pay the debts he is going to incur. We have brought
together every scrap of information we could collect as to this person,
hoping to find therein a clue that we could follow up. To be quite open
with you, and convince you at the same time how extremely prudent and
discreet we must be, I must tell you that we think we have found one,
and that it leads to no less a dignitary than a Prince of the Church.
But if he should get wind of our researches too soon everything would be
at an end, don’t you see? So keep your tongue between your teeth."

"Never fear," said Jeannin.

"Now, that’s what I call speaking out as a friend should. I wish you
luck, my gallant Chevalier de Moranges, and until you unearth your
father, if you want a little money, my purse is at your service. On my
word, de Jars, you must have been born with a caul. There never was your
equal for wonderful adventures. This one promises well-spicy intrigues,
scandalous revelations, and you’ll be in the thick of it all. You’re a
lucky fellow! It’s only a few months since you had the most splendid
piece of good fortune sent you straight from heaven. A fair lady falls
in love with you and makes you carry her off from the convent of La
Raquette. But why do you never let anyone catch a glimpse of her? Are
you jealous? Or is it that she is no such beauty, after all, but old and
wrinkled, like that knave of a Mazarin?"

"I know what I’m about," answered de Jars, smiling; "I have my very good
reasons. The elopement caused a great deal of indignation, and it’s not
easy to get fanatics to listen to common sense. No, I am not in the
least jealous; she is madly in love with me. Ask my nephew."

"Does he know her?"

"We have no secrets from each other; the confidence between us is
without a flaw. The fair one, believe me, is good to look on, and is
worth all the ogling, fan-flirting baggages put together that one sees
at court or on the balconies of the Palais Roy: ah! I’ll answer for
that. Isn’t she, Moranges?"

"I’m quite of your opinion," said the youth; exchanging with de jars a
singularly significant look; "and you had better treat her well, uncle,
or I shall play you some trick."

"Ah! ah!" cried Jeannin. "You poor fellow! I very much fear that you are
warming a little serpent in your bosom. Have an eye to this dandy with
the beardless chin! But joking apart, my boy, are you really on good
terms with the fair lady?"

"Certainly I am."

"And you are not uneasy, commander?"

"Not the least little bit."

"He is quite right. I answer for her as for my self, you know; as long
as he loves her she will love him; as long as he is faithful she will be
faithful. Do you imagine that a woman who insists on her lover carrying
her off can so easily turn away from the man of her choice? I know her
well; I have had long talks with her, she and I alone: she is
feather-brained, given to pleasure, entirely without prejudices and
those stupid scruples which spoil the lives of other women; but a good
sort on the whole; devoted to my uncle, with no deception about her; but
at the same time extremely jealous, and has no notion of letting herself
be sacrificed to a rival. If ever she finds herself deceived, good-bye
to prudence and reserve, and then—"

A look and a touch of the commander’s knee cut this panegyric short, to
which the treasurer was listening with open-eyed astonishment.

"What enthusiasm!" he exclaimed. "Well, and then——"

"Why, then," went on the young man, with a laugh, "if my uncle behaves
badly, I, his nephew, will try to make up for his wrong-doing: he can’t
blame me then. But until then he may be quite easy, as he well knows."

"Oh yes, and in proof of that I am going to take Moranges with me
to-night. He is young and inexperienced, and it will be a good lesson
for him to see how a gallant whose amorous intrigues did not begin
yesterday sets about getting even with a coquette. He can turn it to
account later on.

"On my word," said Jeannin, "my notion is that he is in no great need of
a teacher; however, that’s your business, not mine. Let us return to
what we were talking about just now. Are we agreed; and shall we amuse
ourselves by paying out the lady in, her own coin?"

"If you like."

"Which of us is to begin?"

De Jars struck the table with the handle of his dagger.

"More wine, gentlemen?" said the drawer, running up.

"No, dice; and be quick about it."

"Three casts each and the highest wins," said Jeannin. "You begin."

"I throw for myself and nephew." The dice rolled on the table.

"Ace and three."

"It’s my turn now. Six and five."

"Pass it over. Five and two."

"We’re equal. Four and two."

"Now let me. Ace and blank."

"Double six."

"You have won."

"And I’m off at once," said Jeannin, rising, and muffling himself in his
mantle, "It’s now half-past seven. We shall see each other again at
eight, so I won’t say good-bye."

"Good luck to you!"

Leaving the tavern and turning into the rue Pavee, he took the direction
of the river.



CHAPTER II


In 1658, at the corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and Le Hurepoix (the
site of the latter being now occupied by the Quai des Augustins as far
as Pont Saint-Michel), stood the great mansion which Francis I had
bought and fitted up for the Duchesse d’Etampes. It was at this period
if not in ruins at least beginning to show the ravages of time. Its rich
interior decorations had lost their splendour and become antiquated.
Fashion had taken up its abode in the Marais, near the Place Royale, and
it was thither that profligate women and celebrated beauties now enticed
the humming swarm of old rakes and young libertines. Not one of them all
would have thought of residing in the mansion, or even in the quarter,
wherein the king’s mistress had once dwelt. It would have been a step
downward in the social scale, and equivalent to a confession that their
charms were falling in the public estimation. Still, the old palace was
not empty; it had, on the contrary, several tenants. Like the provinces
of Alexander’s empire, its vast suites of rooms had been subdivided; and
so neglected was it by the gay world that people of the commonest
description strutted about with impunity where once the proudest nobles
had been glad to gain admittance. There in semi-isolation and despoiled
of her greatness lived Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, formerly companion
to Mademoiselle de Pons and then maid of honour to Anne of Austria. Her
love intrigues and the scandals they gave rise to had led to her
dismissal from court. Not that she was a greater sinner than many who
remained behind, only she was unlucky enough or stupid enough to be
found out. Her admirers were so indiscreet that they had not left her a
shred of reputation, and in a court where a cardinal is the lover of a
queen, a hypocritical appearance of decorum is indispensable to success.
So Angelique had to suffer for the faults she was not clever enough to
hide. Unfortunately for her, her income went up and down with the number
and wealth of her admirers, so when she left the court all her
possessions consisted of a few articles she had gathered together out of
the wreck of her former luxury, and these she was now selling one by one
to procure the necessaries of life, while she looked back from afar with
an envious eye at the brilliant world from which she had been exiled,
and longed for better days. All hope was not at an end for her. By a
strange law which does not speak well for human nature, vice finds
success easier to attain than virtue. There is no courtesan, no matter
how low she has fallen, who cannot find a dupe ready to defend against
the world an honour of which no vestige remains. A man who doubts the
virtue of the most virtuous woman, who shows himself inexorably severe
when he discovers the lightest inclination to falter in one whose
conduct has hitherto been above reproach, will stoop and pick up out of
the gutter a blighted and tarnished reputation and protect and defend it
against all slights, and devote his life to the attempt to restore
lustre to the unclean thing dulled by the touch of many fingers. In her
days of prosperity Commander de Jars and the king’s treasurer had both
fluttered round Mademoiselle de Guerchi, and neither had fluttered in
vain. Short as was the period necessary to overcome her scruples, in as
short a period it dawned on the two candidates for her favour that each
had a successful rival in the other, and that however potent as a reason
for surrender the doubloons of the treasurer had been, the personal
appearance of the commander had proved equally cogent. As both had felt
for her only a passing fancy and not a serious passion, their
explanations with each other led to no quarrel between them; silently
and simultaneously they withdrew from her circle, without even letting
her know they had found her out, but quite determined to revenge,
themselves on her should a chance ever offer. However, other affairs of
a similar nature had intervened to prevent their carrying out this
laudable intention; Jeannin had laid siege to a more inaccessible
beauty, who had refused to listen to his sighs for less than 30 crowns,
paid in advance, and de Jars had become quite absorbed by his adventure
with the convent boarder at La Raquette, and the business of that young
stranger whom he passed off as his nephew. Mademoiselle de Guerchi had
never seen them again; and with her it was out of sight out of mind. At
the moment when she comes into our story she was weaving her toils round
a certain Duc de Vitry, whom she had seen at court, but whose
acquaintance she had never made, and who had been absent when the
scandalous occurrence which led to her disgrace came to light. He was a
man of from twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, who idled his life
away: his courage was undoubted, and being as credulous as an old
libertine, he was ready to draw his sword at any moment to defend the
lady whose cause he had espoused, should any insolent slanderer dare to
hint there was a smirch on her virtue. Being deaf to all reports, he
seemed one of those men expressly framed by heaven to be the consolation
of fallen women; such a man as in our times a retired opera-dancer or a
superannuated professional beauty would welcome with open arms. He had
only one fault—he was married. It is true he neglected his wife,
according to the custom of the time, and it is probably also true that
his wife cared very little about his infidelities. But still she was an
insurmountable obstacle to the fulfilment of Mademoiselle de Guerchi’s
hopes, who but for her might have looked forward to one day becoming a
duchess.

For about three weeks, however, at the time we are speaking of, the duke
had neither crossed her threshold nor written. He had told her he was
going for a few days to Normandy, where he had large estates, but had
remained absent so long after the date he had fixed for his return that
she began to feel uneasy. What could be keeping him? Some new flame,
perhaps. The anxiety of the lady was all the more keen, that until now
nothing had passed between them but looks of languor and words of love.
The duke had laid himself and all he possessed at the feet of Angelique,
and Angelique had refused his offer. A too prompt surrender would have
justified the reports so wickedly spread against her; and, made wise by
experience, she was resolved not to compromise her future as she had
compromised her past. But while playing at virtue she had also to play
at disinterestedness, and her pecuniary resources were consequently
almost exhausted. She had proportioned the length of her resistance to
the length of her purse, and now the prolonged absence of her lover
threatened to disturb the equilibrium which she had established between
her virtue and her money. So it happened that the cause of the lovelorn
Duc de Vitry was in great peril just at the moment when de Jars and
Jeannin resolved to approach the fair one anew. She was sitting lost in
thought, pondering in all good faith on the small profit it was to a
woman to be virtuous, when she heard voices in the antechamber. Then her
door opened, and the king’s treasurer walked in.

As this interview and those which follow took place in the presence of
witnesses, we are obliged to ask the reader to accompany us for a time
to another part of the same house.

We have said there were several tenants: now the person who occupied the
rooms next to those in which Mademoiselle de Guerchi lived was a
shopkeeper’s widow called Rapally, who was owner of one of the
thirty-two houses which then occupied the bridge Saint-Michel. They had
all been constructed at the owner’s cost, in return for a lease for
ever. The widow Rapally’s avowed age was forty, but those who knew her
longest added another ten years to that: so, to avoid error, let us say
she was forty-five. She was a solid little body, rather stouter than was
necessary for beauty; her hair was black, her complexion brown, her eyes
prominent and always moving; lively, active, and if one once yielded to
her whims, exacting beyond measure; but until then buxom and soft, and
inclined to pet and spoil whoever, for the moment, had arrested her
volatile fancy. Just as we make her acquaintance this happy individual
was a certain Maitre Quennebert, a notary of Saint Denis, and the comedy
played between him and the widow was an exact counterpart of the one
going on in the rooms of Mademoiselle de Guerchi, except that the roles
were inverted; for while the lady was as much in love as the Duc de
Vitry, the answering devotion professed by the notary was as insincere
as the disinterested attachment to her lover displayed by the whilom
maid of honour.

Maitre Quennebert was still young and of attractive appearance, but his
business affairs were in a bad way. For long he had been pretending not
to understand the marked advances of the widow, and he treated her with
a reserve and respect she would fain have dispensed with, and which
sometimes made her doubt of his love. But it was impossible for her as a
woman to complain, so she was forced to accept with resignation the
persistent and unwelcome consideration with which he surrounded her.
Maitre Quennebert was a man of common sense and much experience, and had
formed a scheme which he was prevented from carrying out by an obstacle
which he had no power to remove. He wanted, therefore, to gain time, for
he knew that the day he gave the susceptible widow a legal right over
him he would lose his independence. A lover to whose prayers the adored
one remains deaf too long is apt to draw back in discouragement, but a
woman whose part is restricted to awaiting those prayers, and answering
with a yes or no, necessarily learns patience. Maitre Quennebert would
therefore have felt no anxiety as to the effect of his dilatoriness on
the widow, were it not for the existence of a distant cousin of the late
Monsieur Rapally, who was also paying court to her, and that with a
warmth much greater than had hitherto been displayed by himself. This
fact, in view of the state of the notary’s affairs, forced him at last
to display more energy. To make up lost ground and to outdistance his
rival once more, he now began to dazzle the widow with fine phrases and
delight her with compliments; but to tell the truth all this trouble was
superfluous; he was beloved, and with one fond look he might have won
pardon for far greater neglect.

An hour before the treasurer’s arrival there had been a knock at the
door of the old house, and Maitre Quennebert, curled, pomaded, and
prepared for conquest, had presented himself at the widow’s. She
received him with a more languishing air than usual, and shot such
arrows at him froth her eyes that to escape a fatal wound he pretended
to give way by degrees to deep sadness. The widow, becoming alarmed,
asked with tenderness—

"What ails you this evening?"

He rose, feeling he had nothing to fear from his rival, and, being
master of the field, might henceforth advance or recede as seemed best
for his interests.

"What ails me?" he repeated, with a deep sigh. "I might deceive you,
might give you a misleading answer, but to you I cannot lie. I am in
great trouble, and how to get out of it I don’t know."

"But tell me what it is," said the widow, standing up in her turn.

Maitre Quennebert took three long strides, which brought him to the far
end of the room, and asked—

"Why do you want to know? You can’t help me. My trouble is of a kind a
man does not generally confide to women."

"What is it? An affair of honour?

"Yes."

"Good God! You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, trying to seize him
by the arm. "You are going to fight!"

"Ah! if it were nothing worse than that!" said Quennebert, pacing up and
down the room: "but you need not be alarmed; it is only a money trouble.
I lent a large sum, a few months ago, to a friend, but the knave has run
away and left me in the lurch. It was trust money, and must be replaced
within three days. But where am I to get two thousand francs?"

"Yes, that is a large sum, and not easy to raise at such short notice."

"I shall be obliged to have recourse to some Jew, who will drain me dry.
But I must save my good name at all costs."

Madame Rapally gazed at him in consternation. Maitre Quennebert,
divining her thought, hastened to add—

"I have just one-third of what is needed."

"Only one-third?"

"With great care, and by scraping together all I possess, I can make up
eight hundred livres. But may I be damned in the next world, or punished
as a swindler in this, and one’s as bad as the other to me, if I can
raise one farthing more."

"But suppose someone should lend you the twelve hundred francs, what
then?"

"Pardieu! I should accept them," cried the notary as if he had not the
least suspicion whom she could mean. "Do you happen to know anyone, my
dear Madame Rapally?"

The widow nodded affirmatively, at the same time giving him a passionate
glance.

"Tell me quick the name of this delightful person, and I shall go to him
to-morrow morning. You don’t know what a service you are rendering me.
And I was so near not telling you of the fix I was in, lest you should
torment yourself uselessly. Tell me his name."

"Can you not guess it?"

"How should I guess it?"

"Think well. Does no one occur to you?"

"No, no one," said Quennebert, with the utmost innocence.

"Have you no friends?"

"One or two."

"Would they not be glad to help you?"

"They might. But I have mentioned the matter to no one."

"To no one?"

"Except you."

"Well?"

"Well, Madame Rapally—I hope I don’t understand you; it’s not possible;
you would not humiliate me. Come, come, it’s a riddle, and I am too
stupid to solve it. I give it up. Don’t tantalise me any longer; tell me
the name."

The widow, somewhat abashed by this exhibition of delicacy on the part
of Maitre Quennebert, blushed, cast down her eyes, and did not venture
to speak.

As the silence lasted some time, it occurred to the notary that he had
been perhaps too hasty in his supposition, and he began to cast round
for the best means of retrieving his blunder.

"You do not speak," he said; "I see it was all a joke."

"No," said the widow at last in a timid voice, "it was no joke; I was
quite in earnest. But the way you take things is not very encouraging."

"What do you mean?"

"Pray, do you imagine that I can go on while you glare at me with that
angry frown puckering your forehead, as if you had someone before you
who had tried to insult you?"

A sweet smile chased the frown from the notary’s brow. Encouraged by the
suspension of hostilities, Madame Rapally with sudden boldness
approached him, and, pressing one of his hands in both her own,
whispered—

"It is I who am going to lend you the money."

He repulsed her gently, but with an air of great dignity, and said—

"Madame, I thank you, but I cannot accept."

"Why can’t you?"

At this he began to walk round and round the room, while the widow, who
stood in the middle, turned as upon a pivot, keeping him always in view.
This circus-ring performance lasted some minutes before Quennebert stood
still and said—

"I cannot be angry with you, Madame Rapally, I know your offer was made
out of the kindness of your heart,—but I must repeat that it is
impossible for me to accept it."

"There you go again! I don’t understand you at all! Why can’t you
accept? What harm would it do?"

"If there were no other reason, because people might suspect that I
confided my difficulties to you in the hope of help."

"And supposing you did, what then? People speak hoping to be understood.
You wouldn’t have minded asking anyone else."

"So you really think I did come in that hope?"

"Mon Dieu! I don’t think anything at all that you don’t want. It was I
who dragged the confidence from you by my questions, I know that very
well. But now that you have told me your secret, how can you hinder me
from sympathising with you, from desiring to aid you? When I learned
your difficulty, ought I to have been amused, and gone into fits of
laughter? What! it’s an insult to be in a position to render you a
service! That’s a strange kind of delicacy!"

"Are you astonished that I should feel so strongly about it?"

"Nonsense! Do you still think I meant to offend you? I look on you as
the most honourable man in the world. If anyone were to tell me that he
had seen you commit a base action, I should reply that it was a lie.
Does that satisfy you?"

"But suppose they got hold of it in the city, suppose it were reported
that Maitre Quennebert had taken money from Madame de Rapally, would it
be the same as if they said Maitre Quennebert had borrowed twelve
hundred livres from Monsieur Robert or some other business man?"

"I don’t see what difference it could make."

"But I do."

"What then?"

"It’s not easy to express, but——"

"But you exaggerate both the service and the gratitude you ought to
feel. I think I know why you refuse. You’re ashamed to take it as a
gift, aren’t you."

"Yes, I am."

"Well, I’m not going to make you a gift. Borrow twelve hundred livres
from me. For how long do you want the money?"

"I really don’t know how soon I can repay you."

"Let’s say a year, and reckon the interest. Sit down there, you baby,
and write out a promissory note."

Maitre Quennebert made some further show of resistance, but at last
yielded to the widow’s importunity. It is needless to say that the whole
thing was a comedy on his part, except that he really needed the money.
But he did not need it to replace a sum of which a faithless friend had
robbed him, but to satisfy his own creditors, who, out of all patience
with him, were threatening to sue him, and his only reason for seeking
out Madame de Rapally was to take advantage of her generous disposition
towards himself. His feigned delicacy was intended to induce her to
insist so urgently, that in accepting he should not fall too much in her
esteem, but should seem to yield to force. And his plan met with
complete success, for at the end of the transaction he stood higher than
ever in the opinion of his fair creditor, on account of the noble
sentiments he had expressed. The note was written out in legal form and
the money counted down on the spot.

"How glad I am!" said she then, while Quennebert still kept up some
pretence of delicate embarrassment, although he could not resist casting
a stolen look at the bag of crowns lying on the table beside his cloak.
"Do you intend to go back to Saint Denis to-night?"

Even had such been his intention, the notary would have taken very good
care not to say so; for he foresaw the accusations of imprudence that
would follow, the enumeration of the dangers by the way; and it was
quite on the cards even that, having thus aroused his fears, his fair
hostess should in deference to them offer him hospitality for the night,
and he did not feel inclined for an indefinitely prolonged tete-a-tete.

"No;" he said, "I am going to sleep at Maitre Terrasson’s, rue des
Poitevins; I have sent him word to expect me. But although his house is
only a few yards distant, I must leave you earlier than I could have
wished, on account of this money."

"Will you think of me?"

"How can you ask?" replied Quennebert, with a sentimental expression.
"You have compelled me to accept the money, but—I shall not be happy
till I have repaid you. Suppose this loan should make us fall out?"

"You may be quite sure that if you don’t pay when the bill falls due, I
shall have recourse to the law."

"Oh, I know that very well."

"I shall enforce all my rights as a creditor."

"I expect nothing else."

"I shall show no pity."

And the widow gave a saucy laugh and shook her finger at him.

"Madame Rapally," said the notary, who was most anxious to bring this
conversation to an end, dreading every moment that it would take a
languishing tone,-"Madame Rapally, will you add to your goodness by
granting me one more favour?"

"What is it?"

"The gratitude that is simulated is not difficult to bear, but genuine,
sincere gratitude, such as I feel, is a heavy burden, as I can assure
you. It is much easier to give than to receive. Promise me, then, that
from now till the year is up there shall be no more reference between us
to this money, and that we shall go on being good friends as before.
Leave it to me to make arrangements to acquit myself honourably of my
obligations towards you. I need say no more; till a year’s up, mum’s the
word."

"It shall be as you desire, Maitre Quennebert," answered Madame Rapally,
her eyes shining with delight. "It was never my intention to lay you
under embarrassing obligations, and I leave it all to you. Do you know
that I am beginning to believe in presentiments?"

"You becoming superstitious! Why, may I ask?"

"I refused to do a nice little piece of ready-money business this
morning."

"Did you?"

"Yes, because I had a sort of feeling that made me resist all temptation
to leave myself without cash. Imagine! I received a visit to-day from a
great lady who lives in this house—in the suite of apartments next to
mine."

"What is her name?"

"Mademoiselle de Guerchi."

"And what did she want with you?"

"She called in order to ask me to buy, for four hundred livres, some of
her jewels which are well worth six hundred, for I understand such
things; or should I prefer it to lend her that sum and keep the jewels
as security? It appears that mademoiselle is in great straits. De
Guerchi—do you know the name?"

"I think I have heard it."

"They say she has had a stormy past, and has been greatly talked of; but
then half of what one hears is lies. Since she came to live here she has
been very quiet. No visitors except one—a nobleman, a duke—wait a
moment! What’s his name? The Duc-Duc de Vitry; and for over three weeks
even he hasn’t been near her. I imagine from this absence that they have
fallen out, and that she is beginning to feel the want of money."

"You seem to be intimately acquainted with this young woman’s affairs."

"Indeed I am, and yet I never spoke to her till this morning."

"How did you get your information, then?"

"By chance. The room adjoining this and one of those she occupies were
formerly one large room, which is now divided into two by a partition
wall covered with tapestry; but in the two corners the plaster has
crumbled away with time, and one can see into the room through slits in
the tapestry without being seen oneself. Are you inquisitive?"

"Not more than you, Madame Rapally."

"Come with me. Someone knocked at the street door a few moments ago;
there’s no one else in the douse likely to have visitors at this hour.
Perhaps her admirer has come back."

"If so, we are going to witness a scene of recrimination or
reconciliation. How delightful!"

Although he was not leaving the widow’s lodgings, Maitre Quennebert took
up his hat and cloak and the blessed bag of crown pieces, and followed
Madame Rapally on tiptoe, who on her side moved as slowly as a tortoise
and as lightly as she could. They succeeded in turning the handle of the
door into the next room without making much noise.

"’Sh!" breathed the widow softly; "listen, they are speaking."

She pointed to the place where he would find a peep-hole in one corner
of the room, and crept herself towards the corresponding corner.
Quennebert, who was by no means anxious to have her at his side,
motioned to her to blow out the light. This being done, he felt secure,
for he knew that in the intense darkness which now enveloped them she
could not move from her place without knocking against the furniture
between them, so he glued his face to the partition. An opening just
large enough for one eye allowed him to see everything that was going on
in the next room. Just as he began his observations, the treasurer at
Mademoiselle de Guerchi’s invitation was about to take a seat near her,
but not too near for perfect respect. Both of them were silent, and
appeared to labour under great embarrassment at finding themselves
together, and explanations did not readily begin. The lady had not an
idea of the motive of the visit, and her quondam lover feigned the
emotion necessary to the success of his undertaking. Thus Maitre
Quennebert had full time to examine both, and especially Angelique. The
reader will doubtless desire to know what was the result of the notary’s
observation.



CHAPTER III


ANGELIQUE-LOUISE DE GUERCHI was a woman of about twenty-eight years of
age, tall, dark, and well made. The loose life she had led had, it is
true, somewhat staled her beauty, marred the delicacy of her complexion,
and coarsened the naturally elegant curves of her figure; but it is such
women who from time immemorial have had the strongest attraction for
profligate men. It seems as if dissipation destroyed the power to
perceive true beauty, and the man of pleasure must be aroused to
admiration by a bold glance and a meaning smile, and will only seek
satisfaction along the trail left by vice. Louise-Angelique was
admirably adapted for her way of life; not that her features wore an
expression of shameless effrontery, or that the words that passed her
lips bore habitual testimony to the disorders of her existence, but that
under a calm and sedate demeanour there lurked a secret and indefinable
charm. Many other women possessed more regular features, but none of
them had a greater power of seduction. We must add that she owed that
power entirely to her physical perfections, for except in regard to the
devices necessary to her calling, she showed no cleverness, being
ignorant, dull and without inner resources of any kind. As her
temperament led her to share the desires she excited, she was really
incapable of resisting an attack conducted with skill and ardour, and if
the Duc de Vitry had not been so madly in love, which is the same as
saying that he was hopelessly blind, silly, and dense to everything
around him, he might have found a score of opportunities to overcome her
resistance. We have already seen that she was so straitened in money
matters that she had been driven to try to sell her jewels that very,
morning.

Jeannin was the first to ’break silence.

"You are astonished at my visit, I know, my charming Angelique. But you
must excuse my thus appearing so unexpectedly before you. The truth is,
I found it impossible to leave Paris without seeing you once more."

"Thank you for your kind remembrance," said she, "but I did not at all
expect it."

"Come, come, you are offended with me."

She gave him a glance of mingled disdain and resentment; but he went on,
in a timid, wistful tone—

"I know that my conduct must have seemed strange to you, and I
acknowledge that nothing can justify a man for suddenly leaving the
woman he loves—I do not dare to say the woman who loves him—without a
word of explanation. But, dear Angelique, I was jealous."

"Jealous!" she repeated incredulously.

"I tried my best to overcome the feeling, and I hid my suspicions from
you. Twenty times I came to see you bursting with anger and determined
to overwhelm you with reproaches, but at the sight of your beauty I
forgot everything but that I loved you. My suspicions dissolved before a
smile; one word from your lips charmed me into happiness. But when I was
again alone my terrors revived, I saw my rivals at your feet, and rage
possessed me once more. Ah! you never knew how devotedly I loved you."

She let him speak without interruption; perhaps the same thought was in
her mind as in Quennebert’s, who, himself a past master in the art of
lying; was thinking—

"The man does not believe a word of what he is saying."

But the treasurer went on—

"I can see that even now you doubt my sincerity."

"Does my lord desire that his handmaiden should be blunt? Well, I know
that there is no truth in what you say."

"Oh! I can see that you imagine that among the distractions of the world
I have kept no memory of you, and have found consolation in the love of
less obdurate fair ones. I have not broken in on your retirement; I have
not shadowed your steps; I have not kept watch on your actions; I have
not surrounded you with spies who would perhaps have brought me the
assurance, ’If she quitted the world which outraged her, she was not
driven forth by an impulse of wounded pride or noble indignation; she
did not even seek to punish those who misunderstood her by her absence;
she buried herself where she was unknown, that she might indulge in
stolen loves.’ Such were the thoughts that came to me, and yet I
respected your hiding-place; and to-day I am ready to believe you true,
if you will merely say, ’I love no one else!’"

Jeannin, who was as fat as a stage financier, paused here to gasp; for
the utterance of this string of banalities, this rigmarole of
commonplaces, had left him breathless. He was very much dissatisfied
with his performance; and ready to curse his barren imagination. He
longed to hit upon swelling phrases and natural and touching gestures,
but in vain. He could only look at Mademoiselle de Guerchi with a
miserable, heart-broken air. She remained quietly seated, with the same
expression of incredulity on her features.

So there was nothing for it but to go on once more.

"But this one assurance that I ask you will not give. So what I
have—been told is true: you have given your love to him."

She could not check a startled movement.

"You see it is only when I speak of him that I can overcome in you the
insensibility which is killing me. My suspicions were true after all:
you deceived me for his sake. Oh! the instinctive feeling of jealousy
was right which forced me to quarrel with that man, to reject the
perfidious friendship which he tried to force upon me. He has returned
to town, and we shall meet! But why do I say ’returned’? Perhaps he only
pretended to go away, and safe in this retreat has flouted with
impunity, my despair and braved my vengeance!"

Up to this the lady had played a waiting game, but now she grew quite
confused, trying to discover the thread of the treasurer’s thoughts. To
whom did he refer? The Duc de Vitry? That had been her first impression.
But the duke had only been acquainted with her for a few months—since
she had—left Court. He could not therefore have excited the jealousy of
her whilom lover; and if it were not he, to whom did the words about
rejecting "perfidious friendship," and "returned to town," and so on,
apply? Jeannin divined her embarrassment, and was not a little proud of
the tactics which would, he was almost sure; force her to expose
herself. For there are certain women who can be thrown into cruel
perplexity by speaking to them of their love-passages without affixing a
proper name label to each. They are placed as it were on the edge of an
abyss, and forced to feel their way in darkness. To say "You have loved"
almost obliges them to ask "Whom?"

Nevertheless, this was not the word uttered by Mademoiselle de Guerchi
while she ran through in her head a list of possibilities. Her answer
was—

"Your language astonishes me; I don’t understand what you mean."

The ice was broken, and the treasurer made a plunge. Seizing one of
Angelique’s hands, he asked—

"Have you never seen Commander de Jars since then?"

"Commander de Jars!" exclaimed Angelique.

"Can you swear to me, Angelique, that you love him not?"

"Mon Dieu! What put it into your head that I ever cared for him? It’s
over four months since I saw him last, and I hadn’t an idea whether he
was alive or dead. So he has been out of town? That’s the first I heard
of it."

"My fortune is yours, Angelique! Oh! assure me once again that you do
not love him—that you never loved him!" he pleaded in a faltering voice,
fixing a look of painful anxiety upon her.

He had no intention of putting her out of countenance by the course he
took; he knew quite well that a woman like Angelique is never more at
her ease than when she has a chance of telling an untruth of this
nature. Besides, he had prefaced this appeal by the magic words, "My
fortune’ is yours!" and the hope thus aroused was well worth a perjury.
So she answered boldly and in a steady voice, while she looked straight
into his eyes—

"Never!"

"I believe you!" exclaimed Jeannin, going down on his knees and covering
with his kisses the hand he still held. "I can taste happiness again.
Listen, Angelique. I am leaving Paris; my mother is dead, and I am going
back to Spain. Will you follow me thither?"

"I—-follow you?"

"I hesitated long before finding you out, so much did I fear a repulse.
I set out to-morrow. Quit Paris, leave the world which has slandered
you, and come with me. In a fortnight we shall be man and wife."

"You are not in earnest!"

"May I expire at your feet if I am not! Do you want me to sign the oath
with my blood?"

"Rise," she said in a broken voice. "Have I at last found a man to love
me and compensate me for all the abuse that has been showered on my
head? A thousand times I thank you, not for what you are doing for me,
but for the balm you pour on my wounded spirit. Even if you were to say
to me now, ’After all, I am obliged to give you up’ the pleasure of
knowing you esteem me would make up for all the rest. It would be
another happy memory to treasure along with my memory of our love, which
was ineffaceable, although you so ungratefully suspected me of having
deceived you."

The treasurer appeared fairly intoxicated with joy. He indulged in a
thousand ridiculous extravagances and exaggerations, and declared
himself the happiest of men. Mademoiselle de Guerchi, who was desirous
of being prepared for every peril, asked him in a coaxing tone—

"Who can have put it into your head to be jealous of the commander? Has
he been base enough to boast that I ever gave him my love?"

"No, he never said anything about you; but someway I was afraid."

She renewed her assurances. The conversation continued some time in a
sentimental tone. A thousand oaths, a thousand protestations of love
were, exchanged. Jeannin feared that the suddenness of their journey
would inconvenience his mistress, and offered to put it off for some
days; but to this she would not consent, and it was arranged that the
next day at noon a carriage should call at the house and take Angelique
out of town to an appointed place at which the treasurer was to join
her.

Maitre Quennebert, eye and ear on the alert, had not lost a word of this
conversation, and the last proposition of the treasurer changed his
ideas.

"Pardieu!" he said to himself, "it looks as if this good man were really
going to let himself be taken in and done for. It is singular how very
clear-sighted we can be about things that don’t touch us. This poor fly
is going to let himself be caught by a very clever spider, or I’m much
mistaken. Very likely my widow is quite of my opinion, and yet in what
concerns herself she will remain stone-blind. Well, such is life! We
have only two parts to choose between: we must be either knave or fool.
What’s Madame Rapally doing, I wonder?"

At this moment he heard a stifled whisper from the opposite corner of
the room, but, protected by the distance and the darkness, he let the
widow murmur on, and applied his eye once more to his peephole. What he
saw confirmed his opinion. The damsel was springing up and down,
laughing, gesticulating, and congratulating herself on her unexpected
good fortune.

"Just imagine! He loves me like that!" she was saying to herself. "Poor
Jeannin! When I remember how I used to hesitate. How fortunate that
Commander de Jars, one of the most vain and indiscreet of men, never
babbled about me! Yes, we must leave town to-morrow without fail. I must
not give him time to be enlightened by a chance word. But the Duc de
Vitry? I am really sorry for him. However, why did he go away, and send
no word? And then, he’s a married man. Ah! if I could only get back
again to court some day!... Who would ever have expected such a thing?
Good God! I must keep talking to myself, to be sure I’m not dreaming.
Yes, he was there, just now, at my feet, saying to me, ’Angelique, you
are going to become my wife.’ One thing is sure, he may safely entrust
his honour to my care. It would be infamous to betray a man who loves me
as he does, who will give me his name. Never, no, never will I give him
cause to reproach me! I would rather——"

A loud and confused noise on the stairs interrupted this soliloquy. At
one moment bursts of laughter were heard, and the next angry voices.
Then a loud exclamation, followed by a short silence. Being alarmed at
this disturbance in a house which was usually so quiet, Mademoiselle de
Guerchi approached the door of her room, intending either to call for
protection or to lock herself in, when suddenly it was violently pushed
open. She recoiled with fright, exclaiming—

"Commander de Jars!"

"On my word!" said Quennebert behind the arras, "’tis as amusing as a
play! Is the commander also going to offer to make an honest woman of
her? But what do I see?"

He had just caught sight of the young man on whom de Jars had bestowed
the title and name of Chevalier de Moranges, and whose acquaintance the
reader has already made at the tavern in the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts.
His appearance had as great an effect on the notary as a thunderbolt. He
stood motionless, trembling, breathless; his knees ready to give way
beneath him; everything black before his eyes. However, he soon pulled
himself together, and succeeded in overcoming the effects of his
surprise and terror. He looked once more through the hole in the
partition, and became so absorbed that no one in the whole world could
have got a word from him just then; the devil himself might have
shrieked into his ears unheeded, and a naked sword suspended over his
head would not have induced him to change his place.



CHAPTER IV


Before Mademoiselle de Guerchi had recovered from her fright the
commander spoke.

"As I am a gentleman, my beauty, if you were the Abbess of Montmartre,
you could not be more difficult of access. I met a blackguard on the
stairs who tried to stop me, and whom I was obliged to thrash soundly.
Is what they told me on my return true? Are you really doing penance,
and do you intend to take the veil?"

"Sir," answered Angelique, with great dignity, "whatever may be my
plans, I have a right to be surprised at your violence and at your
intrusion at such an hour."

"Before we go any farther," said de Jars, twirling round on his heels,
"allow me to present to you my nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges."

"Chevalier de Moranges!" muttered Quennebert, on whose memory in that
instant the name became indelibly engraven.

"A young man," continued the commander, "who has come back with me from
abroad. Good style, as you see, charming appearance. Now, you young
innocent, lift up your great black eyes and kiss madame’s hand; I allow
it."

"Monsieur le commandeur, leave my room; begone, or I shall call——"

"Whom, then? Your lackeys? But I have beaten the only one you keep, as I
told you, and it will be some time before he’ll be in a condition to
light me downstairs: ’Begone,’ indeed! Is that the way you receive an
old friend? Pray be seated, chevalier."

He approached Mademoiselle de Guerchi, and, despite her resistance,
seized hold of one of her hands, and forcing her to sit down, seated
himself beside her.

"That’s right, my girl," said he; "now let us talk sense. I understand
that before a stranger you consider yourself obliged to appear
astonished at my ways of going on. But he knows all about us, and
nothing he may see or hear will surprise him. So a truce to prudery! I
came back yesterday, but I could not make out your hiding-place till
to-day. Now I’m not going to ask you to tell me how you have gone on in
my absence. God and you alone know, and while He will tell me nothing,
you would only tell me fibs, and I want to save you from that venial sin
at least. But here I am, in as good spirits as ever, more in love than
ever, and quite ready to resume my old habits."

Meantime the lady, quite subdued by his noisy entrance and ruffianly
conduct, and seeing that an assumption of dignity would only draw down
on her some fresh impertinence, appeared to resign herself to her
position. All this time Quennebert never took his eyes from the
chevalier, who sat with his face towards the partition. His elegantly
cut costume accentuated his personal advantages. His jet black hair
brought into relief the whiteness of his forehead; his large dark eyes
with their veined lids and silky lashes had a penetrating and peculiar
expression—a mixture of audacity and weakness; his thin and somewhat
pale lips were apt to curl in an ironical smile; his hands were of
perfect beauty, his feet of dainty smallness, and he showed with an
affectation of complaisance a well-turned leg above his ample boots, the
turned down tops of which, garnished with lace, fell in irregular folds
aver his ankles in the latest fashion. He did not appear to be more than
eighteen years of age, and nature had denied his charming face the
distinctive sign of his sex for not the slightest down was visible on
his chin, though a little delicate pencilling darkened his upper lip:
His slightly effeminate style of beauty, the graceful curves of his
figure, his expression, sometimes coaxing, sometimes saucy, reminding
one of a page, gave him the appearance of a charming young scapegrace
destined to inspire sudden passions and wayward fancies. While his
pretended uncle was making himself at home most unceremoniously,
Quennebert remarked that the chevalier at once began to lay siege to his
fair hostess, bestowing tender and love-laden glances on her behind that
uncle’s back. This redoubled his curiosity.

"My dear girl," said the commander, "since I saw you last I have come
into a fortune of one hundred thousand livres, neither more nor less.
One of my dear aunts took it into her head to depart this life, and her
temper being crotchety and spiteful she made me her sole heir, in order
to enrage those of her relatives who had nursed her in her illness. One
hundred thousand livres! It’s a round sum—enough to cut a great figure
with for two years. If you like, we shall squander it together, capital
and interest. Why do you not speak? Has anyone else robbed me by any
chance of your heart? If that were so, I should be in despair, upon my
word-for the sake of the fortunate individual who had won your favour;
for I will brook no rivals, I give you fair warning."

"Monsieur le commandeur," answered Angelique, "you forget, in speaking
to me in that manner, I have never given you any right to control my
actions."

"Have we severed our connection?"

At this singular question Angelique started, but de Jars continued—

"When last we parted we were on the best of terms, were we not? I know
that some months have elapsed since then, but I have explained to you
the reason of my absence. Before filling up the blank left by the
departed we must give ourselves space to mourn. Well, was I right in my
guess? Have you given me a successor?"

Mademoiselle de Guerchi had hitherto succeeded in controlling her
indignation, and had tried to force herself to drink the bitter cup of
humiliation to the dregs; but now she could bear it no longer. Having
thrown a look expressive of her suffering at the young chevalier, who
continued to ogle her with great pertinacity, she decided on bursting
into tears, and in a voice broken by sobs she exclaimed that she was
miserable at being treated in this manner, that she did not deserve it,
and that Heaven was punishing her for her error in yielding to the
entreaties of the commander. One would have sworn she was sincere and
that the words came from her heart. If Maitre Quennebert had not
witnessed the scene with Jeannin, if he had not known how frail was the
virtue of the weeping damsel, he might have been affected by her
touching plaint. The chevalier appeared to be deeply moved by
Angelique’s grief, and while his, uncle was striding up and down the
room and swearing like a trooper, he gradually approached her and
expressed by signs the compassion he felt.

Meantime the notary was in a strange state of mind. He had not yet made
up his mind whether the whole thing was a joke arranged between de Jars
and Jeannin or not, but of one thing he was quite convinced, the
sympathy which Chevalier de Moranges was expressing by passionate sighs
and glances was the merest hypocrisy. Had he been alone, nothing would
have prevented his dashing head foremost into this imbroglio, in scorn
of consequence, convinced that his appearance would be as terrible in
its effect as the head of Medusa. But the presence of the widow
restrained him. Why ruin his future and dry up the golden spring which
had just begun to gush before his eyes, for the sake of taking part in a
melodrama? Prudence and self-interest kept him in the side scenes.

The tears of the fair one and the glances of the chevalier awoke no
repentance in the breast of the commander; on the contrary, he began to
vent his anger in terms still more energetic. He strode up and down the
oaken floor till it shook under his spurred heels; he stuck his plumed
hat on the side of his head, and displayed the manners of a bully in a
Spanish comedy. Suddenly he seemed to have come to a swift resolution:
the expression of his face changed from rage to icy coldness, and
walking up to Angelique, he said, with a composure more terrible than
the wildest fury—

"My rival’s name?"

"You shall never learn it from me!"

"Madame, his name?"

"Never! I have borne your insults too long. I am not responsible to you
for my actions."

"Well, I shall learn it, in spite of you, and I know to whom to apply.
Do you think you can play fast and loose with me and my love? No, no! I
used to believe in you; I turned, a deaf ear to your traducers. My mad
passion for you became known; I was the jest and the butt of the town.
But you have opened my eyes, and at last I see clearly on whom my
vengeance ought to fall. He was formerly my friend, and I would believe
nothing against him; although I was often warned, I took no notice. But
now I will seek him out, and say to him, ’You have stolen what was mine;
you are a scoundrel! It must be your life, or mine!’ And if, there is
justice in heaven, I shall kill him! Well, madame, you don’t ask me the
name of this man! You well know whom I mean!"

This threat brought home to Mademoiselle de Guerchi how imminent was her
danger. At first she had thought the commander’s visit might be a snare
laid to test her, but the coarseness of his expressions, the cynicism of
his overtures in the presence of a third person, had convinced her she
was wrong. No man could have imagined that the revolting method of
seduction employed could meet with success, and if the commander had
desired to convict her of perfidy he would have come alone and made use
of more persuasive weapons. No, he believed he still had claims on her,
but even if he had, by his manner of enforcing them he had rendered them
void. However, the moment he threatened to seek out a rival whose
identity he designated quite clearly, and reveal to him the secret it
was so necessary to her interests to keep hidden, the poor girl lost her
head. She looked at de Jars with a frightened expression, and said in a
trembling voice—

"I don’t know whom you mean."

"You don’t know? Well, I shall commission the king’s treasurer, Jeannin
de Castille, to come here to-morrow and tell you, an hour before our
duel."

"Oh no! no! Promise me you will not do that!" cried she, clasping her
hands.

"Adieu, madame."

"Do not leave me thus! I cannot let you go till you give me your
promise!"

She threw herself on her knees and clung with both her hands to de Jars’
cloak, and appealing to Chevalier de Moranges, said—

"You are young, monsieur; I have never done you any harm; protect me,
have pity on me, help me to soften him!"

"Uncle," said the chevalier in a pleading tone, "be generous, and don’t
drive this woman to despair."

"Prayers are useless!" answered the commander.

"What do you want me to do?" said Angelique. "Shall I go into a convent
to atone? I am ready to go. Shall I promise never to see him again? For
God’s sake, give me a little time; put off your vengeance for one single
day! To-morrow evening, I swear to you, you will have nothing more to
fear from me. I thought myself forgotten by you and abandoned; and how
should I think otherwise? You left me without a word of farewell, you
stayed away and never sent me a line! And how do you know that I did not
weep when you deserted me, leaving me to pass my days in monotonous
solitude? How do you know that I did not make every effort to find out
why you were so long absent from my side? You say you had left town but
how was I to know that? Oh! promise me, if you love me, to give up this
duel! Promise me not to seek that man out to-morrow!"

The poor creature hoped to work wonders with her eloquence, her tears,
her pleading glances. On hearing her prayer for a reprieve of
twenty-four hours, swearing that after that she would never see Jeannin
again, the commander and the chevalier were obliged to bite their lips
to keep from laughing outright. But the former soon regained his
self-possession, and while Angelique, still on her knees before him,
pressed his hands to her bosom, he forced her to raise her head, and
looking straight into her eyes, said—

"To-morrow, madame, if not this evening, he shall know everything, and a
meeting shall take place."

Then pushing her away, he strode towards the door.

"Oh! how unhappy I am!" exclaimed Angelique.

She tried to rise and rush after him, but whether she was really
overcome by her feelings, or whether she felt the one chance of
prevailing left her was to faint, she uttered a heartrending cry, and
the chevalier had no choice but to support her sinking form.

De Jars, on seeing his nephew staggering under this burden, gave a loud
laugh, and hurried away. Two minutes later he was once more at the
tavern in the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts.

"How’s this? Alone?" said Jeannin.

"Alone."

"What have you done with the chevalier?"

"I left him with our charmer, who was unconscious, overcome with grief,
exhausted Ha! ha! ha! She fell fainting into his arms! Ha! ha! ha!"

"It’s quite possible that the young rogue, being left with her in such a
condition, may cut me out."

"Do you think so?—Ha! ha! ha!"

And de Jars laughed so heartily and so infectiously that his worthy
friend was obliged to join in, and laughed till he choked.

In the short silence which followed the departure of the commander,
Maitre Quennebert could hear the widow still murmuring something, but he
was less disposed than ever to attend to her.

"On my word," said he, "the scene now going on is more curious than all
that went before. I don’t think that a man has ever found himself in
such a position as mine. Although my interests demand that I remain here
and listen, yet my fingers are itching to box the ears of that Chevalier
de Moranges. If there were only some way of getting at a proof of all
this! Ah! now we shall hear something; the hussy is coming to herself."

And indeed Angelique had opened her eyes and was casting wild looks
around her; she put her hand to her brow several times, as if trying to
recall clearly what had happened.

"Is he gone?" she exclaimed at last. "Oh, why did you let him go? You
should not have minded me, but kept him here."

"Be calm," answered the chevalier, "be calm, for heaven’s sake. I shall
speak to my uncle and prevent his ruining your prospects. Only don’t
weep any more, your tears break my heart. Ah, my God! how cruel it is to
distress you so! I should never be able to withstand your tears; no
matter what reason I had for anger, a look from you would make me
forgive you everything."

"Noble young man!" said Angelique.

"Idiot!" muttered Maitre Quennebert; "swallow the honey of his words, do
But how the deuce is it going to end? Not Satan himself ever invented
such a situation."

"But then I could never believe you guilty without proof, irrefutable
proof; and even then a word from you would fill my mind with doubt and
uncertainty again. Yes, were the whole world to accuse you and swear to
your guilt, I should still believe your simple word. I am young, madam,
I have never known love as yet—until an instant ago I had no idea that
more quickly than an image can excite the admiration of the eye, a
thought can enter the heart and stir it to its depths, and features that
one may never again behold leave a lifelong memory behind. But even if a
woman of whom I knew absolutely nothing were to appeal to me,
exclaiming, ’I implore your help, your protection!’ I should, without
stopping to consider, place my sword and my arm at her disposal, and
devote myself to her service. How much more eagerly would I die for you,
madam, whose beauty has ravished my heart! What do you demand of me?
Tell me what you desire me to do."

"Prevent this duel; don’t allow an interview to take place between your
uncle and the man whom he mentioned. Tell me you will do this, and I
shall be safe; for you have never learned to lie; I know."

"Of course he hasn’t, you may be sure of that, you simpleton!" muttered
Maitre Quennebert in his corner. "If you only knew what a mere novice
you are at that game compared with the chevalier! If you only knew whom
you had before you!"

"At your age," went on Angelique, "one cannot feign—the heart is not yet
hardened, and is capable of compassion. But a dreadful idea occurs to
me—a horrible suspicion! Is it all a devilish trick—a snare arranged in
joke? Tell me that it is not all a pretence! A poor woman encounters so
much perfidy. Men amuse themselves by troubling her heart and confusing
her mind; they excite her vanity, they compass her round with homage,
with flattery, with temptation, and when they grow tired of fooling her,
they despise and insult her. Tell me, was this all a preconcerted plan?
This love, this jealousy, were they only acted?"

"Oh, madame," broke in the chevalier, with an expression of the deepest
indignation, "how can you for an instant imagine that a human heart
could be so perverted? I am not acquainted with the man whom the
commander accused you of loving, but whoever he may be I feel sure that
he is worthy of your love, and that he would never have consented to
such a dastardly joke. Neither would my uncle; his jealousy mastered him
and drove him mad—

"But I am not dependent on him; I am my own master, and can do as I
please. I will hinder this duel; I will not allow the illusion and
ignorance of him who loves you and, alas that I must say it, whom you
love, to be dispelled, for it is in them he finds his happiness. Be
happy with him! As for me, I shall never see you again; but the
recollection of this meeting, the joy of having served you, will be my
consolation."

Angelique raised her beautiful eyes, and gave the chevalier a long look
which expressed her gratitude more eloquently than words.

"May I be hanged!" thought Maitre Quennebert, "if the baggage isn’t
making eyes at him already! But one who is drowning clutches at a
straw."

"Enough, madam," said the chevalier; "I understand all you would say.
You thank me in his name, and ask me to leave you: I obey-yes, madame, I
am going; at the risk of my life I will prevent this meeting, I will
stifle this fatal revelation. But grant me one last prayer-permit me to
look forward to seeing you once more before I leave this city, to which
I wish I had never come. But I shall quit it in a day or two, to-morrow
perhaps—as soon as I know that your happiness is assured. Oh! do not
refuse my last request; let the light of your eyes shine on me for the
last time; after that I shall depart—I shall fly far away for ever. But
if perchance, in spite of every effort, I fail, if the commander’s
jealousy should make him impervious to my entreaties—to my tears, if he
whom you love should come and overwhelm you with reproaches and then
abandon you, would you drive me from your presence if I should then say,
’I love you’? Answer me, I beseech you."

"Go!" said she, "and prove worthy of my gratitude—or my love."

Seizing one of her hands, the chevalier covered it with passionate
kisses.

"Such barefaced impudence surpasses everything I could have imagined!"
murmured Quennebert: "fortunately, the play is over for to-night; if it
had gone on any longer, I should have done something foolish. The lady
hardly imagines what the end of the comedy will be."

Neither did Quennebert. It was an evening of adventures. It was written
that in the space of two hours Angelique was to run the gamut of all the
emotions, experience all the vicissitudes to which a life such as she
led is exposed: hope, fear, happiness, mortification, falsehood, love
that was no love, intrigue within intrigue, and, to crown all, a totally
unexpected conclusion.



CHAPTER V


The chevalier was still holding Angelique’s hand when a step resounded
outside, and a voice was heard.

"Can it be that he has come back?" exclaimed the damsel, hastily freeing
herself from the passionate embrace of the chevalier. "It’s not
possible! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! it’s his voice!"

She grew pale to the lips, and stood staring at the door with
outstretched arms, unable to advance or recede.

The chevalier listened, but felt sure the approaching voice belonged
neither to the commander nor to the treasurer.

"’His voice’?" thought Quennebert to himself. "Can this be yet another
aspirant to her favour?"

The sound came nearer.

"Hide yourself!" said Angelique, pointing to a door opposite to the
partition behind which the widow and the notary were ensconced. "Hide
yourself there!—there’s a secret staircase—you can get out that way."

"I hide myself!" exclaimed Moranges, with a swaggering air. "What are
you thinking of? I remain."

It would have been better for him to have followed her advice, as may
very well have occurred to the youth two minutes later, as a tall,
muscular young man entered in a state of intense excitement. Angelique
rushed to meet him, crying—

"Ah! Monsieur le duc, is it you?"

"What is this I hear, Angelique?" said the Duc de Vitry. "I was told
below that three men had visited you this evening; but only two have
gone out—where is the third? Ha! I do not need long to find him," he
added, as he caught sight of the chevalier, who stood his ground bravely
enough.

"In Heaven’s name!" cried Angelique,—"in Heaven’s name, listen to me!"

"No, no, not a word. Just now I am not questioning you. Who are you,
sir?"

The chevalier’s teasing and bantering disposition made him even at that
critical moment insensible to fear, so he retorted insolently—

"Whoever I please to be, sir; and on my word I find the tone in which
you put your question delightfully amusing."

The duke sprang forward in a rage, laying his hand on his sword.
Angelique tried in vain to restrain him.

"You want to screen him from my vengeance, you false one!" said he,
retreating a few steps, so as to guard the door. "Defend your life,
sir!"

"Do you defend yours!"

Both drew at the same moment.

Two shrieks followed, one in the room, the other behind the tapestry,
for neither Angelique nor the widow had been able to restrain her alarm
as the two swords flashed in air. In fact the latter had been so
frightened that she fell heavily to the floor in a faint.

This incident probably saved the young man’s life; his blood had already
begun to run cold at the sight of his adversary foaming with rage and
standing between him and the door, when the noise of the fall distracted
the duke’s attention.

"What was that?" he cried. "Are there other enemies concealed here too?"
And forgetting that he was leaving a way of escape free, he rushed in
the direction from which the sound came, and lunged at the
tapestry-covered partition with his sword. Meantime the chevalier,
dropping all his airs of bravado, sprang from one end of the room to the
other like a cat pursued by a dog; but rapid as were his movements, the
duke perceived his flight, and dashed after him at the risk of breaking
both his own neck and the chevalier’s by a chase through unfamiliar
rooms and down stairs which were plunged in darkness.

All this took place in a few seconds, like a flash of lightning. Twice,
with hardly any interval, the street door opened and shut noisily, and
the two enemies were in the street, one pursued and the other pursuing.

"My God! Just to think of all that has happened is enough to make one
die of fright!" said Mademoiselle de Guerchi. "What will come next, I
should like to know? And what shall I say to the duke when he comes
back?"

Just at this instant a loud cracking sound was heard in the room.
Angelique stood still, once more struck with terror, and recollecting
the cry she had heard. Her hair, which was already loosened, escaped
entirely from its bonds, and she felt it rise on her head as the figures
on the tapestry moved and bent towards her. Falling on her knees and
closing her eyes, she began to invoke the aid of God and all the saints.
But she soon felt herself raised by strong arms, and looking round, she
found herself in the presence of an unknown man, who seemed to have
issued from the ground or the walls, and who, seizing the only light
left unextinguished in the scuffle, dragged her more dead than alive
into the next room.

This man was, as the reader will have already guessed, Maitre
Quennebert. As soon as the chevalier and the duke had disappeared, the
notary had run towards the corner where the widow lay, and having made
sure that she was really unconscious, and unable to see or hear
anything, so that it would be quite safe to tell her any story he
pleased next day, he returned to his former position, and applying his
shoulder to the partition, easily succeeded in freeing the ends of the
rotten laths from the nails which held there, and, pushing them before
him, made an aperture large enough to allow of his passing through into
the next apartment. He applied himself to this task with such vigour,
and became so absorbed in its accomplishment, that he entirely forgot
the bag of twelve hundred livres which the widow had given him.

"Who are you? What do you want with me?" cried Mademoiselle de Guerchi,
struggling to free herself.

"Silence!" was Quennebert’s answer.

"Don’t kill me, for pity’s sake!"

"Who wants to kill you? But be silent; I don’t want your shrieks to call
people here. I must be alone with you for a few moments. Once more I
tell you to be quiet, unless you want me to use violence. If you do what
I tell you, no harm shall happen to you."

"But who are you, monsieur?"

"I am neither a burglar nor a murderer; that’s all you need to know; the
rest is no concern of yours. Have you writing materials at hand?"

"Yes, monsieur; there they are, on that table."

"Very well. Now sit down at the table."

"Why?"

"Sit down, and answer my questions."

"The first man who visited you this evening was M. Jeannin, was he not?"

"Yes, M. Jeannin de Castille."

"The king’s treasurer?"

"Yes."

"All right. The second was Commander de Jars, and the young man he
brought with him was his nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges. The last
comer was a duke; am I not right?"

"The Duc de Vitry."

"Now write from my dictation."

He spoke very slowly, and Mademoiselle de Guerchi, obeying his commands,
took up her pen.

"’To-day,’" dictated Quennebert,—"’to-day, this twentieth day of the
month of November, in the year of the Lord 1658, I—

"What is your full name?"

"Angelique-Louise de Guerchi."

"Go on! ’I, Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, was visited, in the rooms
which—I occupy, in the mansion of the Duchesse d’Etampes, corner of the
streets Git-le-Coeur and du Hurepoix, about half-past seven o’clock in
the evening, in the first place, by Messire Jeannin de Castille, King’s
Treasurer; in the second place, by Commander de Jars, who was
accompanied by a young man, his nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges; in
the third place, after the departure of Commander de Jars, and while I
was alone with the Chevalier de Moranges, by the Duc de Vitry, who drew
his sword upon the said chevalier and forced him to take flight.’

"Now put in a line by itself, and use capitals "’DESCRIPTION OF THE
CHEVALIER DE MORANGES."

"But I only saw him for an instant," said Angelique, "and I can’t
recall——

"Write, and don’t talk. I can recall everything, and that is all that is
wanted."

"’Height about five feet.’ The chevalier," said Quennebert, interrupting
himself, "is four feet eleven inches three lines and a half, but I don’t
need absolute exactness." Angelique gazed at him in utter stupefaction.

"Do you know him, then?" she asked.

"I saw him this evening for the first time, but my eye is very accurate.

"’Height about five feet; hair black, eyes ditto, nose aquiline, mouth
large, lips compressed, forehead high, face oval, complexion pale, no
beard.’

"Now another line, and in capitals: "’SPECIAL MARKS.’

"’A small mole on the neck behind the right ear, a smaller mole on the
left hand.’

"Have you written that? Now sign it with your full name."

"What use are you going to make of this paper?"

"I should have told you before, if I had desired you to know. Any
questions are quite useless. I don’t enjoin secrecy on you, however,"
added the notary, as he folded the paper and put it into his doublet
pocket. "You are quite free to tell anyone you like that you have
written the description of the Chevalier de Moranges at the dictation of
an unknown man, who got into your room you don’t know how, by the
chimney or through the ceiling perhaps, but who was determined to leave
it by a more convenient road. Is there not a secret staircase? Show me
where it is. I don’t want to meet anyone on my way out."

Angelique pointed out a door to him hidden by a damask curtain, and
Quennebert saluting her, opened it and disappeared, leaving Angelique
convinced that she had seen the devil in person. Not until the next day
did the sight of the displaced partition explain the apparition, but
even then so great was her fright, so deep was the terror which the
recollection of the mysterious man inspired, that despite the permission
to tell what had happened she mentioned her adventure to no one, and did
not even complain to her neighbour, Madame Rapally, of the
inquisitiveness which had led the widow to spy on her actions.



CHAPTER VI


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."

"No, no—"

"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."

"Very well."

"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.



CHAPTER VII


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?"

"Yes, Sir."

"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.



CHAPTER VIII


With the reader’s permission, we must now jump over an interval of
rather more than a year, and bring upon the stage a person who, though
only of secondary importance, can no longer be left behind the scenes.

We have already said that the loves of Quennebert and Madame Rapally
were regarded with a jealous eye by a distant cousin of the lady’s late
husband. The love of this rejected suitor, whose name was Trumeau, was
no more sincere than the notary’s, nor were his motives more honourable.
Although his personal appearance was not such as to lead him to expect
that his path would be strewn with conquests, he considered that his
charms at least equalled those of his defunct relative; and it may be
said that in thus estimating them he did not lay himself—open to the
charge of overweening vanity. But however persistently he preened him
self before the widow, she vouchsafed him not one glance. Her heart was
filled with the love of his rival, and it is no easy thing to tear a
rooted passion out of a widow’s heart when that widow’s age is
forty-six, and she is silly enough to believe that the admiration she
feels is equalled by the admiration she inspires, as the unfortunate
Trumeau found to his cost. All his carefully prepared declarations of
love, all his skilful insinuations against Quennebert, brought him
nothing but scornful rebuffs. But Trumeau was nothing if not
persevering, and he could not habituate himself to the idea of seeing
the widow’s fortune pass into other hands than his own, so that every
baffled move only increased his determination to spoil his competitor’s
game. He was always on the watch for a chance to carry tales to the
widow, and so absorbed did he become in this fruitless pursuit, that he
grew yellower and more dried up from day to day, and to his jaundiced
eye the man who was at first simply his rival became his mortal enemy
and the object of his implacable hate, so that at length merely to get
the better of him, to outwit him, would, after so long-continued and
obstinate a struggle and so many defeats, have seemed to him too mild a
vengeance, too incomplete a victory.

Quennebert was well aware of the zeal with which the indefatigable
Trumeau sought to injure him. But he regarded the manoeuvres of his
rival with supreme unconcern, for he knew that he could at any time
sweep away the network of cunning machinations, underhand insinuations,
and malicious hints, which was spread around him, by allowing the widow
to confer on him the advantages she was so anxious to bestow. The goal,
he knew, was within his reach, but the problem he had to solve was how
to linger on the way thither, how to defer the triumphal moment, how to
keep hope alive in the fair one’s breast and yet delay its fruition. His
affairs were in a bad way. Day by day full possession of the fortune
thus dangled before his eyes, and fragments of which came to him
occasionally by way of loan, was becoming more and more indispensable,
and tantalising though it was, yet he dared not put out his hand to
seize it. His creditors dunned him relentlessly: one final reprieve had
been granted him, but that at an end, if he could not meet their
demands, it was all up with his career and reputation.

One morning in the beginning of February 1660, Trumeau called to see his
cousin. He had not been there for nearly a month, and Quennebert and the
widow had begun to think that, hopeless of success, he had retired from
the contest. But, far from that, his hatred had grown more intense than
ever, and having come upon the traces of an event in the past life of
his rival which if proved would be the ruin of that rival’s hopes, he
set himself to gather evidence. He now made his appearance with beaming
looks, which expressed a joy too great for words. He held in one hand a
small scroll tied with a ribbon. He found the widow alone, sitting in a
large easy-chair before the fire. She was reading for the twentieth time
a letter which Quenriebert had written her the evening before. To judge
by the happy and contented expression of the widow’s face, it must have
been couched in glowing terms. Trumeau guessed at once from whom the
missive came, but the sight of it, instead of irritating him, called
forth a smile.

"Ah! so it’s you, cousin?" said the widow, folding the precious paper
and slipping it into the bosom of her dress. "How do you do? It’s a long
time since I saw you, more than a fortnight, I think. Have you been
ill?"

"So you remarked my absence! That is very flattering, my dear cousin;
you do not often spoil me by such attentions. No, I have not been ill,
thank God, but I thought it better not to intrude upon you so often. A
friendly call now and then such as to-day’s is what you like, is it not?
By the way, tell me about your handsome suitor, Maitre Quennebert; how
is he getting along?"

"You look very knowing, Trumeau: have you heard of anything happening to
him?"

"No, and I should be exceedingly sorry to hear that anything unpleasant
had happened to him."

Now you are not saying what you think, you know you can’t bear him."

"Well, to speak the truth, I have no great reason to like him. If it
were not for him, I should perhaps have been happy to-day; my love might
have moved your heart. However, I have become resigned to my loss, and
since your choice has fallen on him,"—and here he sighed,—"well, all I
can say is, I hope you may never regret it."

"Many thanks for your goodwill, cousin; I am delighted to find you in
such a benevolent mood. You must not be vexed because I could not give
you the kind of love you wanted; the heart, you know, is not amenable to
reason."

"There is only one thing I should like to ask."

"What is it?"

"I mention it for your good more than for my own. If you want to be
happy, don’t let this handsome quill-driver get you entirely into his
hands. You are saying to yourself that because of my ill-success with
you I am trying to injure him; but what if I could prove that he does
not love you as much as he pretends—?"

"Come, come, control your naughty tongue! Are you going to begin
backbiting again? You are playing a mean part, Trumeau. I have never
hinted to Maitre Quennebert all the nasty little ways in which you have
tried to put a spoke in his wheel, for if he knew he would ask you to
prove your words, and then you would look very foolish.".

"Not at all, I swear to you. On the contrary, if I were to tell all I
know in his presence, it is not I who would be disconcerted. Oh! I am
weary of meeting with nothing from you but snubs, scorn, and abuse. You
think me a slanderer when I say, ’This gallant wooer of widows does not
love you for yourself but for your money-bags. He fools you by fine
promises, but as to marrying you—never, never!’"

"May I ask you to repeat that?" broke in Madame Rapally

"Oh! I know what I am saying. You will never be Madame Quennebert."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Jealousy has eaten away whatever brains you used to possess, Trumeau.
Since I saw you last, cousin, important changes have taken place: I was
just going to send you to-day an invitation to my wedding."

"To your wedding?"

"Yes; I am to be married to-morrow."

"To-morrow? To Quennebert?" stammered Trumeau.

"To Quennebert," repeated the widow in a tone of triumph.

"It’s not possible!" exclaimed Trumeau.

"It is so possible that you will see us united tomorrow. And for the
future I must beg of you to regard Quennebert no longer as a rival but
as my husband, whom to offend will be to offend me."

The tone in which these words were spoken no longer left room for doubt
as to the truth of the news. Trumeau looked down for a few moments, as
if reflecting deeply before definitely making up his mind. He twisted
the little roll of papers between his fingers, and seemed to be in doubt
whether to open it and give it to Madame Rapally to read or not. In the
end, however, he put it in his pocket, rose, and approaching his cousin,
said—

"I beg your pardon, this news completely changes my opinion. From the
moment Maitre Quennebert becomes your husband I shall not have a word to
say against him. My suspicions were unjust, I confess it frankly, and I
hope that in consideration of the motives which prompted me you will
forget the warmth of my attacks. I shall make no protestations, but
shall let the future show how sincere is my devotion to your interests."

Madame Rapally was too happy, too certain of being loved, not to pardon
easily. With the self-complacency and factitious generosity of a woman
who feels herself the object of two violent passions, she was so good as
to feel pity for the lover who was left out in the cold, and offered him
her hand. Trumeau kissed it with every outward mark of respect, while
his lips curled unseen in a smite of mockery. The cousins parted,
apparently the best of friends, and on the understanding that Trumeau
would be present at the nuptial benediction, which was to be given in a
church beyond the town hall, near the house in which the newly-married
couple were to live; the house on the Pont Saint-Michel having lately
been sold to great advantage.

"On my word," said Trumeau, as he went off, "it would have been a great
mistake to have spoken. I have got that wretch of a Quennebert into my
clutches at last; and there is nobody but himself to blame. He is taking
the plunge of his own free will, there is no need for me to shove him
off the precipice."

The ceremony took place next day. Quennebert conducted his interesting
bride to the altar, she hung with ornaments like the shrine of a saint,
and, beaming all over with smiles, looked so ridiculous that the
handsome bridegroom reddened to the roots of his hair with shame. Just
as they entered the church, a coffin, on which lay a sword, and which
was followed by a single mourner, who from his manners and dress seemed
to belong to the class of nobles, was carried in by the same door. The
wedding guests drew back to let the funeral pass on, the living giving
precedence to the dead. The solitary mourner glanced by chance at
Quennebert, and started as if the sight of him was painful.

"What an unlucky meeting!" murmured Madame Rapally; "it is sure to be a
bad omen."

"It’s sure to be the exact opposite," said Quennebert smiling.

The two ceremonies took place simultaneously in two adjoining chapels;
the funeral dirges which fell on the widow’s ear full of sinister
prediction seemed to have quite another meaning for Quennebert, for his
features lost their look of care, his wrinkles smoothed themselves out,
till the guests, among whom was Trumeau, who did not suspect the secret
of his relief from suspense, began to believe, despite their surprise,
that he was really rejoiced at obtaining legal possession of the
charming Madame Rapally.

As for her, she fleeted the daylight hours by anticipating the joyful
moment when she would have her husband all to herself. When night came,
hardly had she entered the nuptial chamber than she uttered a piercing
shriek. She had just found and read a paper left on the bed by Trumeau,
who before leaving had contrived to glide into the room unseen. Its
contents were of terrible import, so terrible that the new-made wife
fell unconscious to the ground.

Quennebert, who, without a smile, was absorbed in reflections on the
happiness at last within his grasp, heard the noise from the next room,
and rushing in, picked up his wife. Catching sight of the paper, he also
uttered a cry of anger and astonishment, but in whatever circumstances
he found himself he was never long uncertain how to act. Placing Madame
Quennebert, still unconscious, on the bed, he called her maid, and,
having impressed on her that she was to take every care of her mistress,
and above all to tell her from him as soon as she came to herself that
there was no cause for alarm, he left the house at once. An hour later,
in spite of the efforts of the servants, he forced his way into the
presence of Commander de Jars. Holding out the fateful document to him,
he said:

"Speak openly, commander! Is it you who in revenge for your long
constraint have done this? I can hardly think so, for after what has
happened you know that I have nothing to fear any longer. Still, knowing
my secret and unable to do it in any other way, have you perchance taken
your revenge by an attempt to destroy my future happiness by sowing
dissension and disunion between me and my wife?"

The commander solemnly assured him that he had had no hand in bringing
about the discovery.

’Then if it’s not you, it must be a worthless being called Trumeau, who,
with the unerring instinct of jealousy, has run the truth to earth. But
he knows only half: I have never been either so much in love or so
stupid as to allow myself to be trapped. I have given you my promise to
be discreet and not to misuse my power, and as long as was compatible
with my own safety I have kept my word. But now you must see that I am
bound to defend myself, and to do that I shall be obliged to summon you
as a witness. So leave Paris tonight and seek out some safe retreat
where no one can find you, for to-morrow I shall speak. Of course if I
am quit for a woman’s tears, if no more difficult task lies before me
than to soothe a weeping wife, you can return immediately; but if, as is
too probable, the blow has been struck by the hand of a rival furious at
having been defeated, the matter will not so easily be cut short; the
arm of the law will be invoked, and then I must get my head out of the
noose which some fingers I know of are itching to draw tight."

"You are quite right, sir," answered the commander; "I fear that my
influence at court is not strong enough to enable me to brave the matter
out. Well, my success has cost me dear, but it has cured me for ever of
seeking out similar adventures. My preparations will not take long, and
to-morrow’s dawn will find me far from Paris."

Quennebert bowed and withdrew, returning home to console his Ariadne.



CHAPTER IX


The accusation hanging over the head of Maitre Quennebert was a very
serious one, threatening his life, if proved. But he was not uneasy; he
knew himself in possession of facts which would enable him to refute it
triumphantly.

The platonic love of Angelique de Guerchi for the handsome Chevalier de
Moranges had resulted, as we have seen, in no practical wrong to the Duc
de Vitry. After her reconciliation with her lover, brought about by the
eminently satisfactory explanations she was able to give of her conduct,
which we have already laid before our readers, she did not consider it
advisable to shut her heart to his pleadings much longer, and the
consequence was that at the end of a year she found herself in a
condition which it was necessary to conceal from everyone. To Angelique
herself, it is true, the position was not new, and she felt neither
grief nor shame, regarding the coming event as a means of making her
future more secure by forging a new link in the chain which bound the
duke to her. But he, sure that but for himself Angelique would never
have strayed from virtue’s path, could not endure the thought of her
losing her reputation and becoming an object for scandal to point her
finger at; so that Angelique, who could not well seem less careful of
her good name than he, was obliged to turn his song of woe into a duet,
and consent to certain measures being taken.

One evening, therefore, shortly before Maitre Quennebert’s marriage, the
fair lady set out, ostensibly on a journey which was to last a fortnight
or three weeks. In reality she only made a circle in a post-chaise round
Paris, which she re-entered at one of the barriers, where the duke
awaited her with a sedan-chair. In this she was carried to the very
house to which de Jars had brought his pretended nephew after the duel.
Angelique, who had to pay dearly for her errors, remained there only
twenty-four hours, and then left in her coffin, which was hidden in a
cellar under the palace of the Prince de Conde, the body being covered
with quicklime. Two days after this dreadful death, Commander de Jars
presented himself at the fatal house, and engaged a room in which he
installed the chevalier.

This house, which we are about to ask the reader to enter with us, stood
at the corner of the rue de la Tixeranderie and the rue Deux-Portes.
There was nothing in the exterior of it to distinguish it from any
other, unless perhaps two brass plates, one of which bore the words
MARIE LEROUX-CONSTANTIN, WIDOW, CERTIFIED MIDWIFE, and the other CLAUDE
PERREGAUD, SURGEON. These plates were affixed to the blank wall in the
rue de la Tixeranderie, the windows of the rooms on that side looking
into the courtyard. The house door, which opened directly on the first
steps of a narrow winding stair, was on the other side, just beyond the
low arcade under whose vaulted roof access was gained to that end of the
rue des Deux-Portes. This house, though dirty, mean, and out of repair,
received many wealthy visitors, whose brilliant equipages waited for
them in the neighbouring streets. Often in the night great ladies
crossed its threshold under assumed names and remained there for several
days, during which La Constantin and Claude Perregaud, by an infamous
use of their professional knowledge, restored their clients to an
outward appearance of honour, and enabled them to maintain their
reputation for virtue. The first and second floors contained a dozen
rooms in which these abominable mysteries were practised. The large
apartment, which served as waiting and consultation room, was oddly
furnished, being crowded with objects of strange and unfamiliar form. It
resembled at once the operating-room of a surgeon, the laboratory of a
chemist and alchemist, and the den of a sorcerer. There, mixed up
together in the greatest confusion, lay instruments of all sorts,
caldrons and retorts, as well as books containing the most absurd
ravings of the human mind. There were the twenty folio volumes of
Albertus Magnus; the works of his disciple, Thomas de Cantopre, of
Alchindus, of Averroes, of Avicenna, of Alchabitius, of David de
Plaine-Campy, called L’Edelphe, surgeon to Louis XIII and author of the
celebrated book The Morbific Hydra Exterminated by the Chemical
Hercules. Beside a bronze head, such as the monk Roger Bacon possessed,
which answered all the questions that were addressed to it and foretold
the future by means of a magic mirror and the combination of the rules
of perspective, lay an eggshell, the same which had been used by Caret,
as d’Aubigne tells us, when making men out of germs, mandrakes, and
crimson silk, over a slow fire. In the presses, which had sliding-doors
fastening with secret springs, stood Jars filled with noxious drugs, the
power of which was but too efficacious; in prominent positions, facing
each other, hung two portraits, one representing Hierophilos, a Greek
physician, and the other Agnodice his pupil, the first Athenian midwife.

For several years already La Constantin and Claude Perregaud had carried
on their criminal practices without interference. A number of persons
were of course in the secret, but their interests kept them silent, and
the two accomplices had at last persuaded themselves that they were
perfectly safe. One evening, however, Perregaud came home, his face
distorted by terror and trembling in every limb. He had been warned
while out that the suspicions of the authorities had been aroused in
regard to him and La Constantin. It seemed that some little time ago,
the Vicars-General had sent a deputation to the president of the chief
court of justice, having heard from their priests that in one year alone
six hundred women had avowed in the confessional that they had taken
drugs to prevent their having children. This had been sufficient to
arouse the vigilance of the police, who had set a watch on Perregaud’s
house, with the result that that very night a raid was to be made on it.
The two criminals took hasty counsel together, but, as usual under such
circumstances, arrived at no practical conclusions. It was only when the
danger was upon them that they recovered their presence of mind. In the
dead of night loud knocking at the street door was heard, followed by
the command to open in the name of the king.

"We can yet save ourselves!" exclaimed surgeon, with a sudden flash of
inspiration.

Rushing into the room where the pretended chevalier was lying, he called
out—

"The police are coming up! If they discover your sex you are lost, and
so am I. Do as I tell you."

At a sign from him, La Constantin went down and opened the door. While
the rooms on the first floor were being searched, Perregaud made with a
lancet a superficial incision in the chevalier’s right arm, which gave
very little pain, and bore a close resemblance to a sword-cut. Surgery
and medicine were at that time so inextricably involved, required such
apparatus, and bristled with such scientific absurdities, that no
astonishment was excited by the extraordinary collection of instruments
which loaded the tables and covered the floors below: even the titles of
certain treatises which there had been no time to destroy, awoke no
suspicion.

Fortunately for the surgeon and his accomplice, they had only one
patient—the chevalier—in their house when the descent was made. When the
chevalier’s room was reached, the first thing which the officers of the
law remarked were the hat, spurred boots, and sword of the patient.
Claude Perregaud hardly looked up as the room was invaded; he only made
a sign to those—who came in to be quiet, and went on dressing the wound.
Completely taken in, the officer in command merely asked the name of the
patient and the cause of the wound. La Constantin replied that it’ was
the young Chevalier de Moranges, nephew of Commander de Jars, who had
had an affair of honour that same night, and being sightly wounded had
been brought thither by his uncle hardly an hour before. These questions
and the apparently trustworthy replies elicited by them being duly taken
down, the uninvited visitors retired, having discovered nothing to
justify their visit.

All might have been well had there been nothing the matter but the wound
on the chevalier’s sword-arm. But at the moment when Perregaud gave it
to him the poisonous nostrums employed by La Constantin were already
working in his blood. Violent fever ensued, and in three days the
chevalier was dead. It was his funeral which had met Quennebert’s
wedding party at the church door.

Everything turned out as Quennebert had anticipated. Madame Quennebert,
furious at the deceit which had been practised on her, refused to listen
to her husband’s justification, and Trumeau, not letting the grass grow
under his feet, hastened the next day to launch an accusation of bigamy
against the notary; for the paper which had been found in the nuptial
camber was nothing less than an attested copy of a contract of marriage
concluded between Quennebert and Josephine-Charlotte Boullenois. It was
by the merest chance that Trumeau had come on the record of the
marriage, and he now challenged his rival to produce a certificate of
the death of his first wife. Charlotte Boullenois, after two years of
marriage, had demanded a deed of separation, which demand Quennebert had
opposed. While the case was going on she had retired to the convent of
La Raquette, where her intrigue with de Jars began. The commander easily
induced her to let herself be carried off by force. He then concealed
his conquest by causing her to adopt male attire, a mode of dress which
accorded marvellously well with her peculiar tastes and rather masculine
frame. At first Quennebert had instituted an active but fruitless search
for his missing wife, but soon became habituated to his state of
enforced single blessedness, enjoying to the full the liberty it brought
with it. But his business had thereby suffered, and once having made the
acquaintance of Madame Rapally, he cultivated it assiduously, knowing
her fortune would be sufficient to set him straight again with the
world, though he was obliged to exercise the utmost caution and reserve
in has intercourse with her, as she on her side displayed none of these
qualities. At last, however, matters came to such a pass that he must
either go to prison or run the risk of a second marriage. So he
reluctantly named a day for the ceremony, resolving to leave Paris with
Madame Rapally as soon as he had settled with his creditors.

In the short interval which ensued, and while Trumeau was hugging the
knowledge of the discovery he had made, a stroke of luck had brought the
pretended chevalier to La Constantin. As Quennebert had kept an eye on
de Jars and was acquainted with all his movements, he was aware of
everything that happened at Perregaud’s, and as Charlotte’s death
preceded his second marriage by one day, he knew that no serious
consequences would ensue from the legal proceedings taken against him.
He produced the declarations made by Mademoiselle de Guerchi and the
commander, and had the body exhumed. Extraordinary and improbable as his
defence appeared at first to be, the exhumation proved the truth of his
assertions. These revelations, however, drew the eye of justice again on
Perregaud and his partner in crime, and this time their guilt was
brought home to them. They were condemned by parliamentary decree to "be
hanged by the neck till they were dead, on a gallows erected for that
purpose at the cross roads of the Croix-du-Trahoir; their bodies to
remain there for twenty-four hours, then to be cut down and brought back
to Paris, where they were to be exposed an a gibbet," etc., etc.

It was proved that they had amassed immense fortunes in the exercise of
their infamous calling. The entries in the books seized at their house,
though sparse, would have led, if made public, to scandals, involving
many in high places; it was therefore judged best to limit the
accusation to the two deaths by blood-poisoning of Angelique de Querchi
and Charlotte Boullenois.



                                  ————



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