He stopped. Burle was sitting there with fixed eyes and a stupid air. Nothing was heard for a moment save the clatter of the major’s heels.
“And not a single copper,” he continued aggressively. “Can you picture yourself between two gendarmes, eh?”
He then grew a little calmer, caught hold of Burle’s wrists and forced him to rise.
“Come!” he said gruffly. “Something must be done at once, for I cannot go to bed with this affair on my mind—I have an idea.”
In the front room Melanie and Phrosine were talking eagerly in low voices. When the widow saw the two men leaving the divan she moved toward Burle and said coaxingly: “What, are you going already, Captain?”
“Yes, he’s going,” brutally answered Laguitte, “and I don’t intend to let him set foot here again.”
The little maid felt frightened and pulled her mistress back by the skirt of her dress; in doing so she imprudently murmured the word “drunkard” and thereby brought down the slap which the major’s hand had been itching to deal for some time past. Both women having stooped, however, the blow only fell on Phrosine’s back hair, flattening her cap and breaking her comb. The domino players were indignant.
“Let’s cut it,” shouted Laguitte, and he pushed Burle on the pavement. “If I remained I should smash everyone in the place.”
To cross the square they had to wade up to their ankles in mud. The rain, driven by the wind, poured off their faces. The captain walked on in silence, while the major kept on reproaching him with his cowardice and its disastrous consequences. Wasn’t it sweet weather for tramping the streets? If he hadn’t been such an idiot they would both be warmly tucked in bed instead of paddling about in the mud. Then he spoke of Gagneux—a scoundrel whose diseased meat had on three separate occasions made the whole regiment ill. In a week, however, the contract would come to an end, and the fiend himself would not get it renewed.
“It rests with me,” the major grumbled. “I can select whomsoever I choose, and I’d rather cut off my right arm than put that poisoner in the way of earning another copper.”
Just then he slipped into a gutter and, half choked by a string of oaths, he gasped:
“You understand—I am going to rout up Gagneux. You must stop outside while I go in. I must know what the rascal is up to and if he’ll dare to carry out his threat of informing the colonel tomorrow. A butcher—curse him! The idea of compromising oneself with a butcher! Ah, you aren’t over-proud, and I shall never forgive you for all this.”
They had now reached the Place aux Herbes. Gagneux’s house was quite dark, but Laguitte knocked so loudly that he was eventually admitted. Burle remained alone in the dense obscurity and did not even attempt to seek any shelter. He stood at a corner of the market under the pelting rain, his head filled with a loud buzzing noise which prevented him from thinking. He did not feel impatient, for he was unconscious of the flight of time. He stood there looking at the house, which, with its closed door and windows, seemed quite lifeless. When at the end of an hour the major came out again it appeared to the captain as if he had only just gone in.