The Countess looked up and saw him as he was driven past. Her face lighted; almost it seemed to him she was about to greet him or to call him, wherefore, to avoid a difficulty, arising out of the presence there of his late antagonist, he anticipated her by bowing frigidly — for his mood was frigid, the more frigid by virtue of what he saw — and then resumed his seat with eyes that looked deliberately ahead.
Could anything more completely have confirmed him in his conviction that it was on M. de La Tour d’Azyr’s account that Aline had come to plead with him that morning? For what his eyes had seen, of course, was a lady overcome with emotion at the sight of blood of her dear friend, and that same dear friend restoring her with assurances that his hurt was very far from mortal. Later, much later, he was to blame his own perverse stupidity. Almost is he too severe in his self-condemnation. For how else could he have interpreted the scene he beheld, his preconceptions being what they were?
That which he had already been suspecting, he now accounted proven to him. Aline had been wanting in candour on the subject of her feelings towards M. de La Tour d’Azyr. It was, he supposed, a woman’s way to be secretive in such matters, and he must not blame her. Nor could he blame her in his heart for having succumbed to the singular charm of such a man as the Marquis — for not even his hostility could blind him to M. de La Tour d’Azyr’s attractions. That she had succumbed was betrayed, he thought, by the weakness that had overtaken her upon seeing him wounded.
“My God!” he cried aloud. “What must she have suffered, then, if I had killed him as I intended!”
If only she had used candour with him, she could so easily have won his consent to the thing she asked. If only she had told him what now he saw, that she loved M. de La Tour d’Azyr, instead of leaving him to assume her only regard for the Marquis to be based on unworthy worldly ambition, he would at once have yielded.
He fetched a sigh, and breathed a prayer for forgiveness to the shade of Vilmorin.
“It is perhaps as well that my lunge went wide,” he said.
“What do you mean?” wondered Le Chapelier.
“That in this business I must relinquish all hope of recommencing.”
THE OVERWHELMING REASON
M. de La Tour d’Azyr was seen no more in the Manege — or indeed in Paris at all — throughout all the months that the National Assembly remained in session to complete its work of providing France with a constitution. After all, though the wound to his body had been comparatively slight, the wound to such a pride as his had been all but mortal.
The rumour ran that he had emigrated. But that was only half the truth. The whole of it was that he had joined that group of noble travellers who came and went between the Tuileries and the headquarters of the emigres at Coblenz. He became, in short, a member of the royalist secret service that in the end was to bring down the monarchy in ruins.