Maurice was about to reply, when a crackling of dry branches made him turn his head.
Scarcely ten paces off, Martial de Sairmeuse was standing motionless, leaning upon his gun.
The Duc de Sairmeuse had slept little and poorly on the night following his return, or his restoration, as he styled it.
Inaccessible, as he pretended to be, to the emotions which agitate the common herd, the scenes of the day had greatly excited him.
He could not help reviewing them, although he made it the rule of his life never to reflect.
While exposed to the scrutiny of the peasants and of his acquaintances at the Chateau de Courtornieu, he felt that his honor required him to appear cold and indifferent, but as soon as he had retired to the privacy of his own chamber, he gave free vent to his excessive joy.
For his joy was intense, almost verging on delirium.
Now he was forced to admit to himself the immense service Lacheneur had rendered him in restoring Sairmeuse.
This poor man to whom he had displayed the blackest ingratitude, this man, honest to heroism, whom he had treated as an unfaithful servant, had just relieved him of an anxiety which had poisoned his life.
Lacheneur had just placed the Duc de Sairmeuse beyond the reach of a not probable, but very possible calamity which he had dreaded for some time.
If his secret anxiety had been made known, it would have created much merriment.
“Nonsense!” people would have exclaimed, “everyone knows that the Sairmeuse possesses property to the amount of at least eight or ten millions, in England.”
This was true. Only these millions, which had accrued from the estate of the duchess and of Lord Holland, had not been bequeathed to the duke.
He enjoyed absolute control of this enormous fortune; he disposed of the capital and of the immense revenues to please himself; but it all belonged to his son—to his only son.
The duke possessed nothing—a pitiful income of twelve hundred francs, perhaps; but, strictly speaking, not even the means of subsistence.
Martial, certainly, had never said a word which would lead him to suspect that he had any intention of removing his property from his father’s control; but he might possibly utter this word.
Had he not good reason to believe that sooner or later this fatal word would be uttered?
And even at the thought of such a contingency he shuddered with horror.
He saw himself reduced to a pension, a very handsome pension, undoubtedly, but still a fixed, immutable, regular pension, by which he would be obliged to regulate his expenditures.
He would be obliged to calculate that two ends might meet—he, who had been accustomed to inexhaustible coffers.
“And this will necessarily happen sooner or later,” he thought. “If Martial should marry, or if he should become ambitious, or meet with evil counsellors, that will be the end of my reign.”