“A Prussian quarrel,” remarked Mascarin. “No; a duel would do us no good. We should still have the girl on our hands, and violent measures are always to be avoided.” He took off his glasses, wiped them, and looking at the doctor intently, said, “Suppose we take an epidemic as our ally. If the girl had the smallpox, she would lose her beauty.”
Cynical and hardened as the doctor was, he drew back in horror at this proposal. “Under certain circumstances,” remarked he, “science might aid us; but Rose, even without her beauty, would be just as dangerous as she is now. It is her affection for Paul that we have to check, and not his for her; and the uglier a woman is, the more she clings to her lover.”
“All this is worthy of consideration,” returned Mascarin; “meanwhile we must take steps to guard ourselves from the impending danger. Have you finished that report on Gandelu, Beaumarchef? What is his position?”
“Head over ears in debt, sir, but not harassed by his creditors because of his future prospects.”
“Surely among these creditors there are some that we could influence?” said Mascarin. “Find this out, and report to me this evening; and farewell for the present.”
When again alone, the two confederates remained silent for some time. The decisive moment had arrived. As yet they were not compromised; but if they intended to carry out their plans, they must no longer remain inactive; and both of these men had sufficient experience to know that they must look at the position boldly, and make up their minds at once. The pleasant smile upon the doctor’s face faded away, and his fingers played nervously with his locket. Mascarin was the first to break the silence.
“Let us no longer hesitate,” said he; “let us shut our eyes to the danger and advance steadily. You heard the promises made by the Marquis de Croisenois. He will do as we wish, but under certain conditions. Mademoiselle de Mussidan must be his bride.”
“That will be impossible.”
“Not so, if we desire it: and the proof of this is, that before two o’clock the engagement between Mademoiselle Sabine and the Baron de Breulh-Faverlay will be broken off.”
The doctor heaved a deep sigh. “I can understand Catenac’s scruples. Ah! if, like him, I had a million!”
During this brief conversation Mascarin had gone into his sleeping room and was busily engaged in changing his dress.
“If you are ready,” remarked the doctor, “we will make a start.”
In reply, Mascarin opened the door leading into the office. “Get a cab, Beaumarchef,” said he.
A trustworthy servant.