“Do you give me your promise that if ever he leave this house safe and sound you will let me know?”
“I give you my promise,”
“And if the result should be different, you will also send me word?”
“Certainly. But to whom shall I address my message?”
“I should have thought that since our first meeting you would have found out all about me, and that to tell you my name would be superfluous. But I have no reason to hide it: Maitre Quennebert, notary, Saint-Denis. I will not detain you any longer now, commander; excuse a simple citizen for dictating conditions to a noble such as you. For once chance has been on my side although a score of times it has gone against me.”
De Jars made no reply except a nod, and walked away quickly, muttering words of suppressed anger between his teeth at all the—humiliations to which he had been obliged to submit so meekly.
“He’s as insolent as a varlet who has no fear of a larruping before his eyes: how the rapscallion gloried in taking advantage of his position! Taking-off his hat while putting his foot on my neck! If ever I can be even with you, my worthy scrivener, you’ll pass a very bad quarter of an hour, I can tell you.”
Everyone has his own idea of what constitutes perfect honour. De Jars, for instance, would have allowed himself to be cut up into little pieces rather than have broken the promise he had given Quennebert a week ago, because it was given in exchange for his life, and the slightest paltering with his word under those circumstances would have been dastardly. But the engagement into which he had just entered had in his eyes no such moral sanction; he had not been forced into it by threats, he had escaped by its means no serious danger, and therefore in regard to it his conscience was much more accommodating. What he should best have liked to do, would have been to have sought out the notary and provoked him by insults to send him a challenge.
That a clown such as that could have any chance of leaving the ground alive never entered his head. But willingly as he would have encompassed his death in this manner, the knowledge that his secret would not die with Quennebert restrained him, for when everything came out he felt that the notary’s death would be regarded as an aggravation of his original offence, and in spite of his rank he was not at all certain that if he were put on his trial even now he would escape scot free, much less if a new offence were added to the indictment. So, however much he might chafe against the bit, he felt he must submit to the bridle.
“By God!” said he, “I know what the clodhopper is after; and even if I must suffer in consequence, I shall take good care that he cannot shake off his bonds. Wait a bit! I can play the detective too, and be down on him without letting him see the hand that deals the blows. It’ll be a wonder if I can’t find a naked sword to suspend above his head.”