The old poacher came punctually, although he was beginning to tire of his task.
“I am risking a great deal,” he growled. “I supposed that Jean Lacheneur would go and live at the Borderie with his sister. Then, I should be safe. But no; the brigand continues to prowl around with his gun under his arm, and to sleep in the woods at night. What game is he hunting? Father Chupin, of course. On the other hand, I know that my rascally innkeeper over there has abandoned his inn and mysteriously disappeared. Where is he? Hidden behind one of these trees, perhaps, deciding in which portion of my body he shall plunge his knife.”
What irritated the old poacher most of all was, that after two months of surveillance, he had arrived at the conclusion that, whatever might have been the relations existing between Martial and Marie-Anne in the past, all was now over between them.
But Blanche would not admit this.
“Say that they are more cunning than you, Father Chupin.”
“Cunning—and how? Since I have been watching the marquis, he has not once passed outside the fortifications. On the other hand, the postman at Sairmeuse, who has been adroitly questioned by my wife, declares that he has not taken a single letter to the Borderie.”
Had it not been for the hope of a safe and pleasant retreat at Courtornieu, Chupin would have abandoned his task; and, in spite of the tempting rewards that were promised him, he had relaxed his surveillance.
If he still came to the rendezvous, it was only because he had fallen into the habit of claiming some money for his expenses each time.
And when Mme. Blanche demanded an account of everything that Martial had done, he told her anything that came into his head.
Mme. Blanche soon discovered this. One day, early in September, she interrupted him as he began the same old story, and, looking him steadfastly in the eye, she said:
“Either you are betraying me, or you are a fool. Yesterday Martial and Marie-Anne spent a quarter of an hour together at the Croix d’Arcy.”
The old physician at Vigano, who had come to Marie-Anne’s aid, was an honorable man. His intellect was of a superior order, and his heart was equal to his intelligence. He knew life; he had loved and suffered, and he possessed two sublime virtues—forbearance and charity.
It was easy for such a man to read Marie-Anne’s character; and while he was at the Borderie he endeavored in every possible way to reassure her, and to restore the self-respect of the unfortunate girl who had confided in him.
Had he succeeded? He certainly hoped so.
But when he departed and Marie-Anne was again left in solitude, she could not overcome the feeling of despondency that stole over her.
Many, in her situation, would have regained their serenity of mind, and even rejoiced. Had she not succeeded in concealing her fault? Who suspected it, except, perhaps, the abbe.