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

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