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The Complete Celebrated Crimes by Alexander Dumas, Pere

Part 21 out of 33

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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 arid 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

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