He laughed a harsh, discordant, terrible laugh, and continued:
“And yet, if we ascended that hill, we could see the Chateau de Sairmeuse in the distance, brightly illuminated. They are celebrating the marriage of Martial de Sairmeuse and Blanche de Courtornieu. We are homeless wanderers without friends, and without a shelter for our heads: they are feasting and making merry.”
Less than this would have sufficed to rekindle the wrath of Maurice. He forgot everything in saying to himself that to disturb this fete by his appearance would be a vengeance worthy of him.
“I will go and challenge Martial now, on the instant, in the presence of the revellers,” he exclaimed.
But Jean interrupted him.
“No, not that! They are cowards; they would arrest you. Write; I will be the bearer of the letter.”
Corporal Bavois heard them; but he did not oppose their folly. He thought it all perfectly natural, under the circumstances, and esteemed them the more for their rashness.
Forgetful of prudence they entered the first shop, and the challenge was written and confided to Jean Lacheneur.
To disturb the merrymaking at the Chateau de Sairmeuse; to change the joy of the bridal-day into sadness; to cast a gloom over the nuptials of Martial and Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu.
This, in truth, was all that Jean Lacheneur hoped to do.
As for believing that Martial, triumphant and happy, would accept the challenge of Maurice, a miserable outlaw, he did not believe it.
While awaiting Martial in the vestibule of the chateau, he armed himself against the scorn and sneers which he would probably receive from this haughty nobleman whom he had come to insult.
But Martial’s kindly greeting had disconcerted him a little.
But he was reassured when he saw the terrible effect produced upon the marquis by the insulting letter.
“We have cut him to the quick,” he thought.
When Martial seized him by the arm and led him upstairs, he made no resistance.
While they traversed the brightly lighted drawing-rooms and passed through the crowd of astonished guests, Jean thought neither of his heavy shoes nor of his peasant dress.
Breathless with anxiety, he wondered what was to come.
He soon knew.
Leaning against the gilded door-post, he witnessed the terrible scene in the little salon.
He saw Martial de Sairmeuse, frantic with passion, cast into the face of his father-in-law Maurice d’Escorval’s letter.
One might have supposed that all this did not affect him in the least, he stood so cold and unmoved, with compressed lips and downcast eyes; but appearances were deceitful. His heart throbbed with wild exultation; and if he cast down his eyes, it was only to conceal the joy that sparkled there.