“As much as I love you. You have your choice.”
“Give me but a day,” she pleaded.
“Truthfully, I dare not.”
“But this paper; I must see it!” wildly.
The vicomte’s hand tightened. “I will place the paper in your hands on the day of our marriage, unreservedly. You will then have the power to commit me, if so you will. Come, Madame; it grows on toward night. Which is it to be? A Montbazon’s word is as good as a king’s louis.”
“Once it has been given!”
As a cat leaps, as the shadow of a bird passes, madame’s hand flew out and grasped the projecting end of the paper. The short struggle was nothing; the red marks on her wrists were painless. Swiftly she rose and stepped, back, breathing quickly but with triumph. He made as though to leap, but in that moment she had smoothed out the crumpled paper. A glance, and it fluttered to the table. Her laughter was very close to tears.
“Monsieur le Vicomte, what a clever wooer you are!” She fled toward the door, opened it, and was gone.
The vicomte sat down.
“Truly, that woman must be mine!”
He took up the paper, smoothed it, and laughed. The paper was totally blank.
D’HEROUVILLE THREATENS AND MADAME FINDS A DROLL BOOK
The next morning the vicomte went to the hospital to inquire into the state of the Comte d’Herouville’s health. He found that gentleman walking back and forth in the ward. There was little of the invalid about him save for the pallor on his cheeks, which provided proof that his blood was not yet of its accustomed thickness. At the sight of the vicomte he neither frowned nor smiled; the expression on his face remained unchanged, but he ceased his pacing. The two men contemplated each other, and the tableau lasted for a minute.
“Well, Monsieur?” said D’Herouville, calmly.
The vicomte was genuinely surprised at the strides toward completeness which D’Herouville had made. An ordinary man would still have been either in bed or in a chair. But none of this surprise appeared on the Vicomte’s face. He had come with a purpose, and he went at it directly.
“Count,” he replied, “you and I have been playing hide and seek in the woods, needlessly and purposelessly.”
“I scarce comprehend your words or your presence.”
“I will explain at once. Madame de Brissac has made sorry fools of us all. She is here in Quebec.”
“What?” The pain caused by the sudden intake of breath stooped D’Herouville’s shoulders.
“I have the honor, then, of bringing you the news? Yes,” easily, “Madame de Brissac is in Quebec. Why, is as yet unknown to me.”
“What is your purpose in bringing me this lie?” asked D’Herouville, recovering. “I have been surrounded by lies ever since I stepped foot in Rochelle. I shall kill Monsieur de Saumaise a week hence.”