Martial remained thoughtful.
“It is not the Marquis de Courtornieu whom I fear,” he murmured, “but his daughter—my wife.”
One must have lived in the country to know with what inconceivable rapidity news flies from mouth to mouth.
Strange as it may seem, the news of the scene at the chateau reached Father Poignot’s farm-house that same evening.
It had not been three hours since Maurice, Jean Lacheneur and Bavois left the house, promising to re-cross the frontier that same night.
Abbe Midon had decided to say nothing to M. d’Escorval of his son’s return, and to conceal Marie-Anne’s presence in the house. The baron’s condition was so critical that the merest trifle might turn the scale.
About ten o’clock the baron fell asleep, and the abbe and Mme. d’Escorval went downstairs to talk with Marie-Anne. As they were sitting there Poignot’s eldest son entered in a state of great excitement.
After supper he had gone with some of his acquaintances to admire the splendors of the fete, and he now came rushing back to relate the strange events of the evening to his father’s guests.
“It is inconceivable!” murmured the abbe.
He knew but too well, and the others comprehended it likewise, that these strange events rendered their situation more perilous than ever.
“I cannot understand how Maurice could commit such an act of folly after what I had just said to him. The baron’s most cruel enemy has been his own son. We must wait until to-morrow before deciding upon anything.”
The next day they heard of the meeting at the Reche. A peasant who, from a distance, had witnessed the preliminaries of the duel which had not been fought, was able to give them the fullest details.
He had seen the two adversaries take their places, then the soldiers run to the spot, and afterward pursue Maurice, Jean and Bavois.
But he was sure that the soldiers had not overtaken them. He had met them five hours afterward, harassed and furious; and the officer in charge of the expedition declared their failure to be the fault of the Marquis de Sairmeuse, who had detained them.
That same day Father Poignot informed the abbe that the Duc de Sairmeuse and the Marquis de Courtornieu were at variance. It was the talk of the country. The marquis had returned to his chateau, accompanied by his daughter, and the duke had gone to Montaignac.
The abbe’s anxiety on receiving this intelligence was so poignant that he could not conceal it from Baron d’Escorval.
“You have heard something, my friend,” said the baron.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
“Some new danger threatens us.”
“None, I swear it.”
The priest’s protestations did not convince the baron.
“Oh, do not deny it!” he exclaimed. “Night before last, when you entered my room after I awoke, you were paler than death, and my wife had certainly been crying. What does all this mean?”