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Murder in Any Degree by Owen Johnson

Part 5 out of 5

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neck of his charger, descended gracefully to the block, where, bowing
profoundly, he said in gallant style:

"Madame, permit me to offer you my hand."

The Comtesse, with the best intentions in the world, had considerable
difficulty in executing the movement by which her husband had extricated
himself. Luckily, the Comte received her without yielding ground, drew
her hand under his arm, and escorted her ceremoniously into the chateau,
while Quatre Diables, liberated from the unusual burden, rolled
gratefully to earth, and scratched his back against the cobblestones.

"Madame, be so kind as to enter your home."

With studied elegance, the Comte put his hat to his breast, or
thereabout, and bowed as he held open the door.

"Oh, M'sieur le Comte; after you," said Francine, in confusion.

"Pass, Madame, and enter the dining-room. We have certain ceremonies to
observe."

Francine dutifully advanced, but kept an eye on the movements of her
consort. When he entered the dining-room and went to the sideboard, she
took an equal number of steps in the same direction. When, having
brought out a bottle and glasses, he turned and came toward her, she
retreated. When he stopped, she stopped, and sat down with the same
exact movement.

"Madame, I offer you a glass of the famous Keragouil Burgundy," began
the Comte, filling her glass. "It is a wine that we De Bonzags have
always kept to welcome our wives and to greet our children. Madame, I
have the honor to drink to the Comtesse de Bonzag."

"Oh, M'sieur le Comte," said Francine, who, watching his manner, emptied
the goblet in one swallow.

"To the health of my ancestors!" continued the Comte, draining the
bottle into the two goblets. "And now throw your glass on the floor!"

"Yes, M'sieur," said Francine, who obeyed regretfully, with the new
instinct of a housewife.

"Now, Madame, as wife and mistress of Keragouil, I think it is well
that you understand your position and what I expect of you," said the
Comte, waving her to a seat and occupying a fauteuil in magisterial
fashion. "I expect that you will learn in a willing spirit what I shall
teach you, that you may become worthy of the noble position you occupy."

"Oh, M'sieur may be sure I'll do my best," said Francine, quite
overcome.

"I expect you to show me the deference and obedience that I demand as
head of the house of Bonzag."

"Oh, M'sieur le Comte, how could you think--"

"To be economical and amiable."

"Yes, indeed, M'sieur."

"To listen when I speak, to forget you were a peasant, to give me three
desserts a week, and never, madame, to show me the slightest
infidelity."

At these last words, Francine, already overcome by the rapid whirl of
fortune, as well as by the overcharged spirits of the potent Burgundy,
burst into tears.

"And no tears!" said De Bonzag, withdrawing sternly.

"No, M'sieur; no," Francine cried, hastily drying her eyes. Then
dropping on her knees, she managed to say: "Oh, M'sieur--pardon,
pardon."

"What do you mean?" cried the Comte, furiously.

"Oh, M'sieur forgive me--I will tell you all!"

"Madame--Madame, I don't understand," said the Comte, mastering himself
with difficulty. "Proceed; I am listening."

"Oh, M'sieur le Comte, I'll tell you all. I swear it on the image of St.
Jacques d'Acquin."

"You have not lied to me about your child?" cried Bonzag in horror.

"No, no, M'sieur; not that," said Francine. Then, hiding her face, she
said: "M'sieur, I hid something from you: I loved Andoche."

"Ah!" said the Comte, with a sigh of relief. He sat down, adding
sympathetically: "My poor Francine, I know it. Alas! That's what life
is."

"Oh, M'sieur, it's all over; I swear it!" Francine cried in protest.
"But I loved him well, and he loved me--oh, how he loved me, M'sieur le
Comte! Pardon, M'sieur, but at that time I didn't think of being a
comtesse, M'sieur le Comte. And when M'sieur spoke to me, I didn't know
what to do. My heart was all given to Andoche, but--well, M'sieur, the
truth is, I began to think of my little girl, and I said to myself, I
must think of her, because, M'sieur, I thought of the position it would
give her, if I were a Comtesse. What a step in the world, eh? And I
said, you must do it for her! So I went to Andoche, and I told him
all--yes, all, M'sieur--that my heart was his, but that my duty was to
her. And Andoche, ah, what a good heart, M'sieur--he understood--we wept
together." She choked a minute, put her handkerchief hastily to her
eyes, "Pardon, M'sieur; and he said it was right, and I kissed him--I
hide nothing, M'sieur will pardon me that,--and he went away!" She took
a step toward him, twisting her handkerchief, adding in a timid appeal:
"M'sieur understands why I tell him that? M'sieur will believe me. I
have killed all that. It is no more in my heart. I swear it by the image
of St. Jacques d'Acquin."

"Madame, I knew it before," said the Comte, rising; "still, I thank
you."

"Oh, M'sieur, I have put it all away--I swear it!"

"I believe you," interrupted the Comte, "and now no more of it! I also
am going to be frank with you." He went with a smile to a corner where
stood the little box, done up in rope, which held the trousseau of the
Comtesse de Bonzag. "Open that, and give me the lottery-tickets I gave
you."

"Hanh? You--M'sieur says?"

"The lottery-tickets--"

"Oh, M'sieur, but they're not there--"

"Then where are they?"

"Oh, M'sieur, wait; I'll tell you," said Francine, simply. "When Andoche
went off--"

[Illustration: "You gave him--the tickets! The lottery-tickets!"]

"What!" cried the Comte, like a cannon.

"He was so broken up, M'sieur, I was so afraid for him, so just to
console him, M'sieur--to give him something--I gave him the tickets."

"You gave him--the tickets! The lottery-tickets!"

"Just to console him--yes, M'sieur."

The lank form of the Comte de Bonzag wavered, and then, as though the
body had suddenly deserted the clothes, collapsed in a heap on the
floor.

THE END

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