The Duc de Sairmeuse had slept little and poorly on the night following his return, or his restoration, as he styled it.
Inaccessible, as he pretended to be, to the emotions which agitate the common herd, the scenes of the day had greatly excited him.
He could not help reviewing them, although he made it the rule of his life never to reflect.
While exposed to the scrutiny of the peasants and of his acquaintances at the Chateau de Courtornieu, he felt that his honor required him to appear cold and indifferent, but as soon as he had retired to the privacy of his own chamber, he gave free vent to his excessive joy.
For his joy was intense, almost verging on delirium.
Now he was forced to admit to himself the immense service Lacheneur had rendered him in restoring Sairmeuse.
This poor man to whom he had displayed the blackest ingratitude, this man, honest to heroism, whom he had treated as an unfaithful servant, had just relieved him of an anxiety which had poisoned his life.
Lacheneur had just placed the Duc de Sairmeuse beyond the reach of a not probable, but very possible calamity which he had dreaded for some time.
If his secret anxiety had been made known, it would have created much merriment.
“Nonsense!” people would have exclaimed, “everyone knows that the Sairmeuse possesses property to the amount of at least eight or ten millions, in England.”
This was true. Only these millions, which had accrued from the estate of the duchess and of Lord Holland, had not been bequeathed to the duke.
He enjoyed absolute control of this enormous fortune; he disposed of the capital and of the immense revenues to please himself; but it all belonged to his son — to his only son.
The duke possessed nothing — a pitiful income of twelve hundred francs, perhaps; but, strictly speaking, not even the means of subsistence.
Martial, certainly, had never said a word which would lead him to suspect that he had any intention of removing his property from his father’s control; but he might possibly utter this word.
Had he not good reason to believe that sooner or later this fatal word would be uttered?
And even at the thought of such a contingency he shuddered with horror.
He saw himself reduced to a pension, a very handsome pension, undoubtedly, but still a fixed, immutable, regular pension, by which he would be obliged to regulate his expenditures.
He would be obliged to calculate that two ends might meet — he, who had been accustomed to inexhaustible coffers.
“And this will necessarily happen sooner or later,” he thought. “If Martial should marry, or if he should become ambitious, or meet with evil counsellors, that will be the end of my reign.”
He watched and studied his son as a jealous woman studies and watches the lover she mistrusts. He thought he read in his eyes many thoughts which were not there; and according as he saw him, gay or sad, careless or preoccupied, he was reassured or still more alarmed.
Sometimes he imagined the worst. “If I should quarrel with Martial,” he thought, “he would take possession of his entire fortune, and I should be left without bread.”
These torturing apprehensions were, to a man who judged the sentiments of others by his own, a terrible chastisement.
Ah! no one would have wished his existence at the price he paid for it — not even the poor wretches who envied his lot and his apparent happiness, as they saw him roll by in his magnificent carriage.
There were days when he almost went mad.
“What am I?” he exclaimed, foaming with rage. “A mere plaything in the hands of a child. My son owns me. If I displease him, he casts me aside. Yes, he can dismiss me as he would a lackey. If I enjoy his fortune, it is only because he is willing that I should do so. I owe my very existence, as well as my luxuries, to his charity. But a moment of anger, even a caprice, may deprive me of everything.”
With such ideas in his brain, the duke could not love his son.
He hated him.
He passionately envied him all the advantages he possessed — his youth, his millions, his physical beauty, and his talents, which were really of a superior order.
We meet every day mothers who are jealous of their daughters, and some fathers!
This was one of those cases.
The duke, however, showed no sign of mental disquietude; and if Martial had possessed less penetration, he would have believed that his father adored him. But if he had detected the duke’s secret, he did not allow him to discover it, nor did he abuse his power.
Their manner toward each other was perfect. The duke was kind even to weakness; Martial full of deference. But their relations were not those of father and son. One was in constant fear of displeasing the other; the other was a little too sure of his power. They lived on a footing of perfect equality, like two companions of the same age.
From this trying situation, Lacheneur had rescued the duke.
The owner of Sairmeuse, an estate worth more than a million, the duke was free from his son’s tyranny; he had recovered his liberty.
What brilliant projects flitted through his brain that night!
He beheld himself the richest landowner in that locality; he was the chosen friend of the King; had he not a right to aspire to anything?
Such a prospect enchanted him. He felt twenty years younger — the twenty years that had been passed in exile.
So, rising before nine o’clock, he went to awaken Martial.
On returning from dining with the Marquis de Courtornieu, the evening before, the duke had gone through the chateau; but this hasty examination by candle-light had not satisfied his curiosity. He wished to see it in detail by daylight.
Followed by his son, he explored one after another of the rooms of the princely abode; and, with every step, the recollections of his infancy crowded upon him.
Lacheneur had respected everything. The duke found articles as old as himself, religiously preserved, occupying the old familiar places from which they had never been removed.
When his inspection was concluded:
“Decidedly, Marquis,” he exclaimed, “this Lacheneur was not such a rascal as I supposed. I am disposed to forgive him a great deal, on account of the care which he has taken of our house in our absence.”
Martial seemed engrossed in thought.
“I think, Monsieur,” he said, at last, “that we should testify our gratitude to this man by paying him a large indemnity.”
This word excited the duke’s anger.
“An indemnity!” he exclaimed. “Are you mad, Marquis? Think of the income that he has received from my estate. Have you forgotten the calculation made for us last evening by the Chevalier de la Livandiere?”
“The chevalier is a fool!” declared Martial promptly. “He forgot that Lacheneur has trebled the value of Sairmeuse. I think that our family honor requires us to bestow upon this man an indemnity of at least one hundred thousand francs. This would, moreover, be a good stroke of policy in the present state of public sentiment, and His Majesty would, I am sure, be much pleased.”
“Stroke of policy”—“public sentiment”—“His Majesty.” One might have obtained almost anything from M. de Sairmeuse by these arguments.
“Heavenly powers!” he exclaimed; “a hundred thousand francs! how you talk! It is all very well for you, with your fortune! Still, if you really think so ——”
“Ah! my dear sir, is not my fortune yours? Yes, such is really my opinion. So much so, indeed, that if you will allow me to do so, I will see Lacheneur myself, and arrange the matter in such a way that his pride will not be wounded. His is a devotion which it would be well to retain.”
The duke opened his eyes to their widest extent.
“Lacheneur’s pride!” he murmured. “Devotion which it would be well to retain! Why do you sing in this strain? Whence comes this extraordinary interest?”
He paused, enlightened by a sudden recollection.
“I understand!” he exclaimed; “I understand. He has a pretty daughter.”
Martial smiled without replying.
“Yes, pretty as a rose,” continued the duke; “but one hundred thousand francs! Zounds! That is a round sum to pay for such a whim. But, if you insist upon it ——”
Armed with this authorization, Martial, two hours later, started on his mission.
The first peasant he met told him the way to the cottage which M. Lacheneur now occupied.
“Follow the river,” said the man, “and when you see a pine-grove upon your left, cross it.”
Martial was crossing it, when he heard the sound of voices. He approached, recognized Marie-Anne and Maurice d’Escorval, and obeying an angry impulse, he paused.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54