Angelique raised her beautiful eyes, and gave the chevalier a long look which expressed her gratitude more eloquently than words.
“May I be hanged!” thought Maitre Quennebert, “if the baggage isn’t making eyes at him already! But one who is drowning clutches at a straw.”
“Enough, madam,” said the chevalier; “I understand all you would say. You thank me in his name, and ask me to leave you: I obey-yes, madame, I am going; at the risk of my life I will prevent this meeting, I will stifle this fatal revelation. But grant me one last prayer-permit me to look forward to seeing you once more before I leave this city, to which I wish I had never come. But I shall quit it in a day or two, to-morrow perhaps—as soon as I know that your happiness is assured. Oh! do not refuse my last request; let the light of your eyes shine on me for the last time; after that I shall depart—I shall fly far away for ever. But if perchance, in spite of every effort, I fail, if the commander’s jealousy should make him impervious to my entreaties—to my tears, if he whom you love should come and overwhelm you with reproaches and then abandon you, would you drive me from your presence if I should then say, ‘I love you’? Answer me, I beseech you.”
“Go!” said she, “and prove worthy of my gratitude—or my love.”
Seizing one of her hands, the chevalier covered it with passionate kisses.
“Such barefaced impudence surpasses everything I could have imagined!” murmured Quennebert: “fortunately, the play is over for to-night; if it had gone on any longer, I should have done something foolish. The lady hardly imagines what the end of the comedy will be.”
Neither did Quennebert. It was an evening of adventures. It was written that in the space of two hours Angelique was to run the gamut of all the emotions, experience all the vicissitudes to which a life such as she led is exposed: hope, fear, happiness, mortification, falsehood, love that was no love, intrigue within intrigue, and, to crown all, a totally unexpected conclusion.
The chevalier was still holding Angelique’s hand when a step resounded outside, and a voice was heard.
“Can it be that he has come back?” exclaimed the damsel, hastily freeing herself from the passionate embrace of the chevalier. “It’s not possible! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! it’s his voice!”
She grew pale to the lips, and stood staring at the door with outstretched arms, unable to advance or recede.
The chevalier listened, but felt sure the approaching voice belonged neither to the commander nor to the treasurer.
“’His voice’?” thought Quennebert to himself. “Can this be yet another aspirant to her favour?”
The sound came nearer.
“Hide yourself!” said Angelique, pointing to a door opposite to the partition behind which the widow and the notary were ensconced. “Hide yourself there!—there’s a secret staircase—you can get out that way.”