“Monsieur Duchemin has placed us all deeply in his debt. Louise ...” The girl in the carriage looked up and bowed, murmuring. “Mademoiselle de Montalais, monsieur: my granddaughter. And Eve ...” She turned to the third, to her whose voice of delightful accent was not in Duchemin’s notion wholly French: “Madame de Montalais, my daughter by adoption, widow of my grandson, who died gloriously for his country at La Fere-Champenoise.”
When she had graciously permitted Duchemin to assist her to a place in the carriage, Madame Sevenie turned immediately to comfort her granddaughter. It was easy to divine an attachment there, between d’Aubrac and Louise de Montalais; Duchemin fancied (and, as it turned out, rightly) the two were betrothed.
But Madame de Montalais was claiming his attention.
“Monsieur thinks—?” she enquired in a guarded tone, taking advantage of the diversion provided by the elder lady to delay a little before entering the barouche.
“Monsieur d’Aubrac is in no immediate danger. Still, the services of a good surgeon, as soon as may be ...”
“Will it be dangerous to wait till we get to Nant?”
“How far is that, madame?”
Duchemin looked aside at the decrepit conveyance with its unhappy horses, and summed up a conclusion in a shrug.
“Millau is nearer, is it not, madame?”
“But Nant is not far from the Chateau de Montalais; and at La Roque-Sainte-Marguerite our automobile is waiting, less than two miles below. The chauffeur advised against bringing over the road from La Roque to Montpellier; it is too rough and very steep.”
“Oh!” said Duchemin, as one who catches a glimmering of light.
“Madame’s chauffeur is waiting with the automobile, no doubt?”
“But assuredly, monsieur.”
He recollected himself. “We shall see what we shall see, then, at La Roque. With an automobile at your disposal, Nant is little more distant than Millau, certainly. Nevertheless, let us not delay.”
“Monsieur is too good.”
Momentarily a hand slender and firm and cool rested in his own. Then its owner was setting into place beside Madame de Sevenie, and Duchemin clambering up to his on the box.
The road proved quite as rough and declivitous as its reputation. One surmised that the Spring rains had found it in a bad way and done nothing to better its condition. Deep ruts and a liberal sprinkling of small boulders collaborated to keep the horses stumbling, plunging and pitching as they strained back against the singletrees. Duchemin was grateful for the moonlight which alone enabled him to keep the road and avoid the worst of the going—until he remembered that without the moon there would have been no expedition that night to view the mock ruins of Montpellier by its unearthly light, and consequently no adventure to entangle him.