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List Of Contents | Contents of La Constantin, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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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

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