The twenty-four hours which Blanche had spent in measuring the extent of her terrible misfortune, the duke had spent in raving and swearing.
He had not even thought of going to bed.
After his fruitless search for his son he returned to the chateau, and began a continuous tramp to and fro in the great hall.
He was almost sinking from weariness when his son’s letter was handed him.
It was very brief.
Martial did not vouchsafe any explanation; he did not even mention the rupture between his wife and himself.
“I cannot return to Sairmeuse,” he wrote, “and yet it is of the
utmost importance that I should see you.
“You will, I trust, approve my determinations when I explain the
reasons that have guided me in making them.
“Come to Montaignac, then, the sooner the better. I am waiting for
Had he listened to the prompting of his impatience, the duke would have started at once. But how could he thus abandon the Marquis de Courtornieu, who had accepted his hospitality, and especially Blanche, his son’s wife?
He must, at least, see them, speak to them, and warn them of his intended departure.
He attempted this in vain. Mme. Blanche had shut herself up in her own apartments, and remained deaf to all entreaties for admittance. Her father had been put to bed, and the physician who had been summoned to attend him, declared the marquis to be at death’s door.
The duke was therefore obliged to resign himself to the prospect of another night of suspense, which was almost intolerable to a character like his.
“To-morrow, after breakfast, I will find some pretext to escape, without telling them I am going to see Martial,” he thought.
He was spared this trouble. The next morning, at about nine o’clock, while he was dressing, a servant came to inform him that M. de Courtornieu and his daughter were awaiting him in the drawing-room.
Much surprised, he hastened down.
When he entered the room, the marquis, who was seated in an arm-chair, rose, leaning heavily upon the shoulder of Aunt Medea.
Mme. Blanche came rapidly forward to meet the duke, as pale as if every drop of blood had been drawn from her veins.
“We are going, Monsieur le Duc,” she said, coldly, “and we wish to make our adieux.”
“What! you are going? Will you not ——”
The young bride interrupted him by a sad gesture, and drawing Martial’s letter from her bosom, she handed it to M. de Sairmeuse, saying.
“Will you do me the favor to peruse this, Monsieur?”
The duke glanced over the short epistle, and his astonishment was so intense that he could not even find an oath.
“Incomprehensible!” he faltered; “incomprehensible!”
“Incomprehensible, indeed,” repeated the young wife, sadly, but without bitterness. “I was married yesterday; to-day I am deserted. It would have been generous to have reflected the evening before and not the next day. Tell Martial, however, that I forgive him for having destroyed my life, for having made me the most miserable of creatures. I also forgive him for the supreme insult of speaking to me of his fortune. I trust he may be happy. Adieu, Monsieur le Duc, we shall never meet again. Adieu!”
She took her father’s arm, and they were about to retire, when M. de Sairmeuse hastily threw himself between them and the door.
“You shall not depart thus!” he exclaimed. “I will not suffer it. Wait, at least, until I have seen Martial. Perhaps he is not as culpable as you suppose —”
“Enough!” interrupted the marquis; “enough! This is one of those outrages which can never be repaired. May your conscience forgive you, as I, myself, forgive you. Farewell!”
This was said so perfectly, with such entire harmony of intonation and gesture, that M. de Sairmeuse was bewildered.
With an absolutely wonderstruck air he watched the marquis and his daughter depart, and they had been gone some moments before he recovered himself sufficiently to exclaim:
“Old hypocrite! does he believe me his dupe?”
His dupe! M. de Sairmeuse was so far from being his dupe, that his next thought was:
“What is to follow this farce? He says that he pardons us — that means that he has some crushing blow in store for us.”
This conviction filled him with disquietude. He really felt unable to cope successfully with the perfidious marquis.
“But Martial is a match for him!” he exclaimed. “Yes, I must see Martial at once.”
So great was his anxiety that he lent a helping hand in harnessing the horses he had ordered, and when the carriage was ready, he announced his determination to drive himself.
As he urged the horses furiously on he tried to reflect, but the most contradictory ideas seethed in his brain, and he lost all power to consider the situation calmly.
He burst into Martial’s room like a tornado. “I think you must certainly have gone mad, Marquis,” he exclaimed. “That is the only valid excuse you can offer.”
But Martial, who had been expecting this visit, had prepared himself for it.
“Never, on the contrary, have I felt more calm and composed in mind,” he replied. “Allow me to ask you one question. Was it you who sent the soldiers to the rendezvous which Maurice d’Escorval had appointed?”
“Very well! Then it was another act of infamy on the part of the Marquis de Courtornieu.”
The duke made no reply. In spite of his faults and his vices, this haughty man possessed the characteristic of the old French nobility — fidelity to his word and undoubted valor.
He thought it perfectly natural, even necessary, that Martial should fight with Maurice; and he thought it a contemptible act to send armed soldiers to seize an honest and confiding opponent.
“This is the second time,” pursued Martial, “that this scoundrel has attempted to bring dishonor upon our name; and if I desire to convince people of the truth of this assertion, I must break off all connection with him and his daughter. I have done this. I do not regret it, since I married her only out of deference to your wishes, and because it seemed necessary for me to marry, and because all women, save one who can never be mine, are alike to me.”
Such utterances were not at all calculated to reassure the duke.
“This sentiment is very noble, no doubt,” said he; “but it has none the less ruined the political prospects of our house.”
An almost imperceptible smile curved Martial’s lips.
“I believe, on the contrary, that I have saved them,” he replied.
“It is useless for us to attempt to deceive ourselves; this whole affair of the insurrection has been abominable, and you have good reason to bless the opportunity of freeing yourself from the responsibility of it which this quarrel gives you. With a little address, you can throw all the odium upon the Marquis de Courtornieu, and keep for yourself only the prestige of valuable service rendered.”
The duke’s face brightened.
“Zounds, Marquis!” he exclaimed; “that is a good idea! In the future I shall be infinitely less afraid of Courtornieu.”
Martial remained thoughtful.
“It is not the Marquis de Courtornieu whom I fear,” he murmured, “but his daughter — my wife.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54