I started off at a run, heedless of all risks. The path made a thousand turns; a thousand other paths kept crossing it. When I reached the plain I found myself in a pasture surrounded by hedges. There every trace of the path disappeared. I jumped the hedge at a venture, and fell into a field. The night was pitch-dark; even had it been day it would have been impossible to ascertain my way in the midst of little properties buried between high banks bristling with thorns. Finally I reached a heath, then some woods; and my fears, which had been somewhat subdued, now grew intense. Yes, I own I was a prey to mortal terrors. Trained to bravery, as a dog is to sport, I bore myself well enough before others. Spurred by vanity, indeed, I was foolishly bold when I had spectators; but left to myself, in the middle of the night, exhausted by toil and hunger, though with no longing for food, unhinged by the emotions I had just experienced, certain that my uncles would beat me when I returned, yet as anxious to return as if I were going to find paradise on earth at Roche-Mauprat, I wandered about until daybreak, suffering indescribable agonies. The howls of wolves, happily far off, more than once reached my ears and froze the blood in my veins; and, as if my position had not been perilous enough in reality, my overwrought imagination must needs add to it a thousand extravagant fantasies. Patience had the reputation of being a wolf-rearer. This, as you know, is a cabalistic speciality accredited in all countries. I kept on fancying, therefore, that I saw this devilish little gray-beard, escorted by his ravening pack, and himself in the form of a demi-wolf, pursing me through the woods. Several times when rabbits got up at my feet I almost fell backwards from the shock. And now, as I was certain that nobody could see, I made many a sign of the cross; for, while affecting incredulity, I was, of course, at heart filled with all the superstitions born of fear.
At last, at daybreak, I reached Roche-Mauprat. I waited in a moat until the gates were opened, and then slipped up to my room without being seen by anybody. As it was not altogether an unfailing tenderness that watched over me at Roche-Mauprat, my absence had not been noticed during the night. Meeting my Uncle John on the stairs, I led him to believe that I had just got up; and, as the artifice proved successful, I went off to the hayloft and slept for the rest of the day.
As I had nothing further to fear for myself, it would have been easy to take vengeance on my enemy. Everything was favourable. The words he had uttered against my family would have been sufficient without any mention of the outrage done to my own person, which, in truth, I hardly cared to make known. I had only to say a word, and in a quarter of an hour seven Mauprats would have been in the saddle, delighted at the opportunity of making an example of a man who paid them no dues. Such a man would have seemed to them good for nothing but hanging as a warning to others.