“Noble young man!” said Angelique.
“Idiot!” muttered Maitre Quennebert; “swallow the honey of his words, do But how the deuce is it going to end? Not Satan himself ever invented such a situation.”
“But then I could never believe you guilty without proof, irrefutable proof; and even then a word from you would fill my mind with doubt and uncertainty again. Yes, were the whole world to accuse you and swear to your guilt, I should still believe your simple word. I am young, madam, I have never known love as yet—until an instant ago I had no idea that more quickly than an image can excite the admiration of the eye, a thought can enter the heart and stir it to its depths, and features that one may never again behold leave a lifelong memory behind. But even if a woman of whom I knew absolutely nothing were to appeal to me, exclaiming, ‘I implore your help, your protection!’ I should, without stopping to consider, place my sword and my arm at her disposal, and devote myself to her service. How much more eagerly would I die for you, madam, whose beauty has ravished my heart! What do you demand of me? Tell me what you desire me to do.”
“Prevent this duel; don’t allow an interview to take place between your uncle and the man whom he mentioned. Tell me you will do this, and I shall be safe; for you have never learned to lie; I know.”
“Of course he hasn’t, you may be sure of that, you simpleton!” muttered Maitre Quennebert in his corner. “If you only knew what a mere novice you are at that game compared with the chevalier! If you only knew whom you had before you!”
“At your age,” went on Angelique, “one cannot feign—the heart is not yet hardened, and is capable of compassion. But a dreadful idea occurs to me—a horrible suspicion! Is it all a devilish trick—a snare arranged in joke? Tell me that it is not all a pretence! A poor woman encounters so much perfidy. Men amuse themselves by troubling her heart and confusing her mind; they excite her vanity, they compass her round with homage, with flattery, with temptation, and when they grow tired of fooling her, they despise and insult her. Tell me, was this all a preconcerted plan? This love, this jealousy, were they only acted?”
“Oh, madame,” broke in the chevalier, with an expression of the deepest indignation, “how can you for an instant imagine that a human heart could be so perverted? I am not acquainted with the man whom the commander accused you of loving, but whoever he may be I feel sure that he is worthy of your love, and that he would never have consented to such a dastardly joke. Neither would my uncle; his jealousy mastered him and drove him mad—
“But I am not dependent on him; I am my own master, and can do as I please. I will hinder this duel; I will not allow the illusion and ignorance of him who loves you and, alas that I must say it, whom you love, to be dispelled, for it is in them he finds his happiness. Be happy with him! As for me, I shall never see you again; but the recollection of this meeting, the joy of having served you, will be my consolation.”