Eight o’clock was sounding when she heard a peculiar whistle.
It was the signal of the younger Poignot, who came bringing an arm-chair for the sick man, the abbe’s box of medicine, and a bag of books.
These articles Marie-Anne deposited in the room which Chanlouineau had adorned for her, and which she intended for the baron. After arranging them to her satisfaction she went out to meet young Poignot, who had told her that he would soon return with other articles.
The night was very dark, and Marie-Anne, as she hastened on, did not notice two motionless figures in the shadow of a clump of lilacs in her little garden.
Detected by Mme. Blanche in a palpable falsehood, Chupin was quite crestfallen for a moment.
He saw the pleasing vision of a retreat at Courtornieu vanish; he saw himself suddenly deprived of frequent gifts which permitted him to spare his hoarded treasure, and even to increase it.
But he soon regained his assurance, and with an affectation of frankness he said:
“I may be stupid, but I could not deceive an infant. Someone must have told you falsely.”
Mme. Blanche shrugged her shoulders.
“I obtained my information from two persons who were ignorant of the interest it would possess for me.”
“As truly as the sun is in the heavens I swear——”
“Do not swear; simply confess that you have been wanting in zeal.”
The young lady’s manner betrayed such positive certainty that Chupin ceased his denials and changed his tactics.
With the most abject humility, he admitted that the evening before he had relaxed his surveillance; he had been very busy; one of his boys had injured his foot; then he had encountered some friends who persuaded him to enter a drinking-saloon, where he had taken more than usual, so that——
He told this story in a whining tone, and every moment he interrupted himself to affirm his repentance and to cover himself with reproaches.
“Old drunkard!” he said, “this will teach you——”
But these protestations, far from reassuring Mme. Blanche, made her still more suspicious,
“All this is very well, Father Chupin,” she said, dryly, “but what are you going to do now to repair your negligence?”
“What do I intend to do?” he exclaimed, feigning the most violent anger. “Oh! you will see. I will prove that no one can deceive me with impunity. Near the Borderie is a small grove. I shall station myself there; and may the devil seize me if a cat enters that house unbeknown to me.”
Mme. Blanche drew her purse from her pocket, and taking out three louis, she gave them to Chupin, saying:
“Take these, and be more careful in future. Another blunder like this, and I shall be compelled to ask the aid of some other person.”