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List Of Contents | Contents of La Constantin, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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whoever, for the moment, had arrested her volatile fancy.  Just as we
make her acquaintance this happy individual was a certain Maitre
Quennebert, a notary of Saint Denis, and the comedy played between
him and the widow was an exact counterpart of the one going on in the
rooms of Mademoiselle de Guerchi, except that the roles were
inverted; for while the lady was as much in love as the Duc de Vitry,
the answering devotion professed by the notary was as insincere as
the disinterested attachment to her lover displayed by the whilom
maid of honour.

Maitre Quennebert was still young and of attractive appearance, but
his business affairs were in a bad way.  For long he had been
pretending not to understand the marked advances of the widow, and he
treated her with a reserve and respect she would fain have dispensed
with, and which sometimes made her doubt of his love.  But it was
impossible for her as a woman to complain, so she was forced to
accept with resignation the persistent and unwelcome consideration
with which he surrounded her.  Maitre Quennebert was a man of common
sense and much experience, and had formed a scheme which he was
prevented from carrying out by an obstacle which he had no power to
remove.  He wanted, therefore, to gain time, for he knew that the day
he gave the susceptible widow a legal right over him he would lose
his independence.  A lover to whose prayers the adored one remains
deaf too long is apt to draw back in discouragement, but a woman
whose part is restricted to awaiting those prayers, and answering
with a yes or no, necessarily learns patience.  Maitre Quennebert
would therefore have felt no anxiety as to the effect of his
dilatoriness on the widow, were it not for the existence of a distant
cousin of the late Monsieur Rapally, who was also paying court to
her, and that with a warmth much greater than had hitherto been
displayed by himself.  This fact, in view of the state of the
notary's affairs, forced him at last to display more energy.  To make
up lost ground and to outdistance his rival once more, he now began
to dazzle the widow with fine phrases and delight her with
compliments; but to tell the truth all this trouble was superfluous;
he was beloved, and with one fond look he might have won pardon for
far greater neglect.

An hour before the treasurer's arrival there had been a knock at the
door of the old house, and Maitre Quennebert, curled, pomaded, and
prepared for conquest, had presented himself at the widow's.  She
received him with a more languishing air than usual, and shot such
arrows at him froth her eyes that to escape a fatal wound he
pretended to give way by degrees to deep sadness.  The widow,
becoming alarmed, asked with tenderness--

"What ails you this evening?"

He rose, feeling he had nothing to fear from his rival, and, being
master of the field, might henceforth advance or recede as seemed
best for his interests.

"What ails me?" he repeated, with a deep sigh.  "I might deceive you,
might give you a misleading answer, but to you I cannot lie.  I am in
great trouble, and how to get out of it I don't know."

"But tell me what it is," said the widow, standing up in her turn.

Maitre Quennebert took three long strides, which brought him to the
far end of the room, and asked--

"Why do you want to know?  You can't help me.  My trouble is of a
kind a man does not generally confide to women."

"What is it?  An affair of honour?

"Yes."

"Good God!  You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, trying to seize
him by the arm.  "You are going to fight!"

"Ah! if it were nothing worse than that!" said Quennebert, pacing up
and down the room: "but you need not be alarmed; it is only a money
trouble.  I lent a large sum, a few months ago, to a friend, but the
knave has run away and left me in the lurch.  It was trust money, and
must be replaced within three days.  But where am I to get two
thousand francs?"

"Yes, that is a large sum, and not easy to raise at such short
notice."

"I shall be obliged to have recourse to some Jew, who will drain me
dry.  But I must save my good name at all costs."

Madame Rapally gazed at him in consternation.  Maitre Quennebert,
divining her thought, hastened to add--

"I have just one-third of what is needed."

"Only one-third?"

"With great care, and by scraping together all I possess, I can make
up eight hundred livres.  But may I be damned in the next world, or
punished as a swindler in this, and one's as bad as the other to me,
if I can raise one farthing more."

"But suppose someone should lend you the twelve hundred francs, what
then?"

"Pardieu!  I should accept them," cried the notary as if he had not
the least suspicion whom she could mean.  "Do you happen to know
anyone, my dear Madame Rapally?"

The widow nodded affirmatively, at the same time giving him a
passionate glance.

"Tell me quick the name of this delightful person, and I shall go to
him to-morrow morning.  You don't know what a service you are
rendering me.  And I was so near not telling you of the fix I was in,
lest you should torment yourself uselessly.  Tell me his name."

"Can you not guess it?"

"How should I guess it?"

"Think well.  Does no one occur to you?"

"No, no one," said Quennebert, with the utmost innocence.

"Have you no friends?"

"One or two."

"Would they not be glad to help you?"

"They might.  But I have mentioned the matter to no one."

"To no one?"

"Except you."

"Well?"

"Well, Madame Rapally--I hope I don't understand you; it's not
possible; you would not humiliate me.  Come, come, it's a riddle, and
I am too stupid to solve it.  I give it up.  Don't tantalise me any
longer; tell me the name."

The widow, somewhat abashed by this exhibition of delicacy on the
part of Maitre Quennebert, blushed, cast down her eyes, and did not
venture to speak.

As the silence lasted some time, it occurred to the notary that he
had been perhaps too hasty in his supposition, and he began to cast
round for the best means of retrieving his blunder.

"You do not speak," he said; "I see it was all a joke."

"No," said the widow at last in a timid voice, "it was no joke; I was
quite in earnest.  But the way you take things is not very
encouraging."

"What do you mean?"

"Pray, do you imagine that I can go on while you glare at me with
that angry frown puckering your forehead, as if you had someone
before you who had tried to insult you?"

A sweet smile chased the frown from the notary's brow.  Encouraged by
the suspension of hostilities, Madame Rapally with sudden boldness
approached him, and, pressing one of his hands in both her own,
whispered--

" It is I who am going to lend you the money."

He repulsed her gently, but with an air of great dignity, and said--

"Madame, I thank you, but I cannot accept."

"Why can't you?"

At this he began to walk round and round the room, while the widow,
who stood in the middle, turned as upon a pivot, keeping him always
in view. This circus-ring performance lasted some minutes before
Quennebert stood still and said--

"I cannot be angry with you, Madame Rapally,  I know your offer was
made out of the kindness of your heart,--but I must repeat that it is
impossible for me to accept it."

"There you go again!  I don't understand you at all!  Why can't you
accept?  What harm would it do?"

"If there were no other reason, because people might suspect that I
confided my difficulties to you in the hope of help."

"And supposing you did, what then?  People speak hoping to be
understood.  You wouldn't have minded asking anyone else."

"So you really think I did come in that hope?"

"Mon Dieu!  I don't think anything at all that you don't want.  It
was I who dragged the confidence from you by my questions, I know
that very well.  But now that you have told me your secret, how can
you hinder me from sympathising with you, from desiring to aid you?
When I learned your difficulty, ought I to have been amused, and gone
into fits of laughter?  What! it's an insult to be in a position to
render you a service!  That's a strange kind of delicacy!"

"Are you astonished that I should feel so strongly about it?"

"Nonsense!  Do you still think I meant to offend you?  I look on you
as the most honourable man in the world.  If anyone were to tell me
that he had seen you commit a base action, I should reply that it was
a lie.  Does that satisfy you?"

"But suppose they got hold of it in the city, suppose it were
reported that Maitre Quennebert had taken money from Madame de
Rapally, would it be the same as if they said Maitre Quennebert had
borrowed twelve hundred livres from Monsieur Robert or some other
business man?"

"I don't see what difference it could make."

"But I do."

"What then?"

"It's not easy to express, but----"

"But you exaggerate both the service and the gratitude you ought to
feel.  I think I know why you refuse.  You're ashamed to take it as a
gift, aren't you."

"Yes, I am."

"Well, I'm not going to make you a gift.  Borrow twelve hundred
livres from me.  For how long do you want the money?"

"I really don't know how soon I can repay you."

"Let's say a year, and reckon the interest.  Sit down there, you
baby, and write out a promissory note."

Maitre Quennebert made some further show of resistance, but at last
yielded to the widow's importunity.  It is needless to say that the
whole thing was a comedy on his part, except that he really needed
the money.  But he did not need it to replace a sum of which a
faithless friend had robbed him, but to satisfy his own creditors,
who, out of all patience with him, were threatening to sue him, and
his only reason for seeking out Madame de Rapally was to take
advantage of her generous disposition towards himself.  His feigned
delicacy was intended to induce her to insist so urgently, that in
accepting he should not fall too much in her esteem, but should seem
to yield to force.  And his plan met with complete success, for at
the end of the transaction he stood higher than ever in the opinion

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