“Well, yes, I do, certainly. What then?”
“Then look at him long and well, for you will not see him again in many a day. He is going to Mexico!”
“To exploit a mine?”
“Yes, Heloise,” the officer replied, “a mine that will make the walls of Puebla totter.”
“In that case, good luck, my General!” said the duenna, presenting arms with her umbrella.
Fanny could not repress a smile in spite of her tears. Her lover seized this moment to withdraw from her arms and reach the stairs.
“And now, Marquis de Prerolles, go forth to battle!” cried the old actress to him over the banisters, with the air of an artist who knows her proper cue.
Notwithstanding the desire expressed by his mistress, Henri firmly decided not to repeat that farewell scene.
The matter that concerned him most was the wish not to depart without having freed himself wholly from his debt to Paul Landry. Fortunately, because of a kindly interest, as well as on account of the guaranty of the Duc de Montgeron, a rich friend consented to advance the sum; so that, one week before the day appointed for payment, the losing player was able to withdraw his signature from the hands of his greedy creditor.
Relieved from this anxiety, Henri had asked, the night before the day set for departure, for leave of absence for several hours, in order to visit for the last time a spot very dear to him, upon whose walls placards now hung, announcing the sale of the property to take place on the following morning.
No one received warning of this visit in extremis save the steward, who awaited his master before the gates of the chateau, the doors and windows of which had been flung wide open.
At the appointed hour the visitor appeared at the end of the avenue, advancing with a firm step between two hedges bordered with poplars, behind which several brood-mares, standing knee-deep in the rich grass, suckled their foal.
The threshold of the gate crossed, master and man skirted the lawn, traversed the garden, laid out in the French fashion, and, side by side, without exchanging a word, mounted the steps of the mansion. Entering the main hall, the Marquis, whose heart was full of memories of his childhood, stopped a long time to regard alternately the two suites of apartments that joined the vestibule to the two opposite wings. Making a sign to his companion not to follow him, Henri then entered the vast gallery, wherein hung long rows of the portraits of his ancestors; and there, baring his head before that of the Marshal of France whose name he bore, he vowed simply, without excitement, and in a low tone, either to vanquish the enemy or to add, after the manner of his forbears, a glorious page to his family’s history.
The object of his pilgrimage having thus been accomplished, the Marquis ordered the steward to see that all the portraits were sent to the Chateau de Montgeron; then, after pressing his hand in farewell, he returned to the station by the road whence he had come, avoiding the village in order to escape the curious eyes of the peasantry.