“The Marquis Martial, is it not? He is also walking before the church with Mademoiselle Blanche de Courtornieu upon his arm. Ah! I do not understand how people can call her pretty—a little bit of a thing, so blond that one might suppose her hair was gray. Ah! how those two laughed and made fun of the peasants. They say they are going to marry each other. And even this evening there is to be a banquet at the Chateau de Courtornieu in honor of the duke.”
He had told all he knew. He paused.
“You have forgotten only one thing,” said M. Lacheneur; “that is, to tell us how your clothing happened to be torn, as if you had been fighting.”
The young farmer hesitated for a moment, then replied, somewhat brusquely:
“I can tell you, all the same. While Chupin was preaching, I also preached, but not in the same strain. The scoundrel reported me. So, in crossing the square, the duke paused before me and remarked: ’So you are an evil-disposed person?’ I said no, but that I knew my rights. Then he took me by the coat and shook me, and told me that he would cure me, and that he would take possession of his vineyard again. Saint Dieu! When I felt the old rascal’s hand upon me my blood boiled. I pinioned him. Fortunately, six or seven men fell upon me, and compelled me to let him go. But he had better make up his mind not to come prowling around my vineyard!”
He clinched his hands, his eyes blazed ominously, his whole person breathed an intense desire for vengeance.
And M. d’Escorval was silent, fearing to aggravate this hatred, so imprudently kindled, and whose explosion, he believed, would be terrible.
M. Lacheneur had risen from his chair.
“I must go and take possession of my cottage,” he remarked to Chanlouineau; “you will accompany me; I have a proposition to make to you.”
M. and Mme. d’Escorval endeavored to detain him, but he would not allow himself to be persuaded, and he departed with his daughter.
But Maurice did not despair; Marie-Anne had promised to meet him the following day in the pine-grove near the Reche.
The demonstrations which had greeted the Duc de Sairmeuse had been correctly reported by Chanlouineau.
Chupin had found the secret of kindling to a white heat the enthusiasm of the cold and calculating peasants who were his neighbors.
He was a dangerous rascal, the old robber, shrewd and cautious; bold, as those who possess nothing can afford to be; as patient as a savage; in short, one of the most consummate scoundrels that ever existed.
The peasants feared him, and yet they had no conception of his real character.
All his resources of mind had, until now, been expended in evading the precipice of the rural code.
To save himself from falling into the hands of the gendarmes, and to steal a few sacks of wheat, he had expended treasures of intrigue which would have made the fortunes of twenty diplomats.