De Jars and Jeannin were speechless with surprise for a few instants; then the former stammered—
“Will you tell us who you are?”
“The devil in person, if you like. Well, will you do as I order? Supposing that I am awkward enough not to kill you at two paces, do you want me to ask you in broad daylight and aloud what I now ask at night and in a whisper? And don’t think to put me off with a false declaration, relying on my not being able to read it by the light of the moon; don’t think either that you can take me by surprise when you hand it me: you will bring it to me with your swords sheathed as now. If this condition is not observed, I shall fire, and the noise will bring a crowd about us. To-morrow I shall speak differently from to-day: I shall proclaim the truth at all the street corners, in the squares, and under the windows of the Louvre. It is hard, I know, for men of spirit to yield to threats, but recollect that you are in my power and that there is no disgrace in paying a ransom for a life that one cannot defend. What do you say?”
In spite of his natural courage, Jeannin, who found himself involved in an affair from which he had nothing to gain, and who was not at all desirous of being suspected of having helped in an abduction, whispered to the commander—
“Faith! I think our wisest course is to consent.”
De Jars, however, before replying, wished to try if he could by any chance throw his enemy off his guard for an instant, so as to take him unawares. His hand still rested on the hilt of his sword, motionless, but ready to draw.
“There is someone coming over yonder,” he cried,—“do you hear?”
“You can’t catch me in that way,” said Quennebert. “Even were there anyone coming, I should not look round, and if you move your hand all is over with you.”
“Well,” said Jeannin, “I surrender at discretion—not on my own account, but out of regard for my friend and this woman. However, we are entitle to some pledge of your silence. This statement that you demand, once written,—you can ruin us tomorrow by its means.”
“I don’t yet know what use I shall make of it, gentlemen. Make up your minds, or you will have nothing but a dead body to place—in the doctor’s hands. There is no escape for you.”
For the first time the wounded man faintly groaned.
“I must save her!” cried de Jars,—“I yield.”
“And I swear upon my honour that I will never try to get this woman out of your hands, and that I will never interfere with your conquest. Knock, gentlemen, and remain as long as may be necessary. I am patient. Pray to God, if you will, that she may recover; my one desire is that she may die.”
They entered the house, and Quennebert, wrapping himself once more in his mantle, walked up and down before it, stopping to listen from time to time. In about two hours the commander and the treasurer came out again, and handed him a written paper in the manner agreed on.