His eye glittered; he believed he had found a victorious argument.
“And then you, yourself, will realize the horror of the disgrace. It will cost you the deadly anguish of a separation from him whom your heart has chosen.”
He had spoken truly, for Marie-Anne’s beautiful eyes filled with tears.
“If what you say proves true, father,” she murmured, in an altered voice, “I may, perhaps, die of sorrow; but I cannot fail to realize that my confidence and my love has been misplaced.”
“And you still insist upon my returning Sairmeuse to its former owner?”
“Honor speaks, my father.”
M. Lacheneur made the arm-chair in which he was seated tremble by a violent blow of his fist.
“And if I am just as obstinate,” he exclaimed—“if I keep the property—what will you do?”
“I shall say to myself, father, that honest poverty is better than stolen wealth. I shall leave this chateau, which belongs to the Duc de Sairmeuse, and I shall seek a situation as a servant in the neighborhood.”
M. Lacheneur sank back in his arm-chair sobbing. He knew his daughter’s nature well enough to be assured that what she said, that she would do.
But he was conquered; his daughter had won the battle. He had decided to make the heroic sacrifice.
“I will relinquish Sairmeuse,” he faltered, “come what may——”
He paused suddenly; a visitor was entering the room.
It was a young man about twenty years of age, of distinguished appearance, but with a rather melancholy and gentle manner.
His eyes when he entered the apartment encountered those of Marie-Anne; he blushed slightly, and the girl half turned away, crimsoning to the roots of her hair.
“Monsieur,” said the young man, “my father sends me to inform you that the Duc de Sairmeuse and his son have just arrived. They have asked the hospitality of our cure.”
M. Lacheneur rose, unable to conceal his frightful agitation.
“You will thank the Baron d’Escorval for his attention, my dear Maurice,” he responded. “I shall have the honor of seeing him to-day, after a very momentous step which we are about to take, my daughter and I.”
Young d’Escorval had seen, at the first glance, that his presence was inopportune, so he remained only a few moments.
But as he was taking leave, Marie-Anne found time to say, in a low voice:
“I think I know your heart, Maurice; this evening I shall know it certainly.”
Few of the inhabitants of Sairmeuse knew, except by name, the terrible duke whose arrival had thrown the whole village into commotion.
Some of the oldest residents had a faint recollection of having seen him long ago, before ’89 indeed, when he came to visit his aunt, Mlle. Armande.
His duties, then, had seldom permitted him to leave the court.