The abbe departed; presently he turned back to look at Minoret. The man was holding his head in his hands as if it troubled him; he was, in fact, partly crazy. In the first place, he had kept the three certificates because he did not know what to do with them. He dared not draw the money himself for fear it should be noticed; he did not wish to sell them, and was still trying to find some way of transferring the certificates. In this horrible state of uncertainty he bethought him of acknowledging all to his wife and getting her advice. Zelie, who always managed affairs for him so well, she could get him out of his troubles. The three-per-cent Funds were now selling at eighty. Restitution! why, that meant, with arrearages, giving up a million! Give up a million, when there was no one who could know that he had taken it!—
So Minoret continued through September and a part of October irresolute and a prey to his torturing thoughts. To the great surprise of the little town he grew thin and haggard.
An alarming circumstance hastened the confession which Minoret was inclined to make to Zelie; the sword of Damocles began to move above their heads. Towards the middle of October Monsieur and Madame Minoret received from their son Desire the following letter:—
My dear Mother,—If I have not been to see you since vacation, it is partly because I have been on duty during the absence of my chief, but also because I knew that Monsieur de Portenduere was waiting my arrival at Nemours, to pick a quarrel with me. Tired, perhaps, of seeing his vengeance on our family delayed, the viscount came to Fontainebleau, where he had appointed one of his Parisian friends to meet him, having already obtained the help of the Vicomte de Soulanges commanding the troop of cavalry here in garrison.
He called upon me, very politely, accompanied by the two gentlemen, and told me that my father was undoubtedly the instigator of the malignant persecutions against Ursula Mirouet, his future wife; he gave me proofs, and told me of Goupil’s confession before witnesses. He also told me of my father’s conduct, first in refusing to pay Goupil the price agreed on for his wicked invention, and next, out of fear of Goupil’s malignity, going security to Monsieur Dionis for the price of his practice which Goupil is to have.
The viscount, not being able to fight a man sixty-seven years of age, and being determined to have satisfaction for the insults offered to Ursula, demanded it formally of me. His determination, having been well-weighed and considered, could not be shaken. If I refused, he was resolved to meet me in society before persons whose esteem I value, and insult me openly. In France, a coward is unanimously scorned. Besides, the motives for demanding reparation should be explained by