Martial did not understand the whole meaning of the scene at first. He went to his father, and after saluting him respectfully, inquired:
“What is all this?”
M. de Sairmeuse laughed heartily.
“What! can you not guess?” he replied. “It is very simple, however. When the lawful master, on his return, sleeps beneath the bed-coverings of the usurper, it is delightful, the first night, not so pleasant on the second. Everything here reminds me too forcibly of Monsieur Lacheneur. It seems to me that I am in his house; and the thought is unendurable. So I have had them collect everything belonging to him and to his daughter—everything, in fact, which did not belong to the chateau in former years. The servants will put it all into a cart and carry it to him.”
The young marquis gave fervent thanks to Heaven that he had arrived before it was too late. Had his father’s project been executed, he would have been obliged to bid farewell to all his hopes.
“You surely will not do this, Monsieur le Duc?” said he, earnestly.
“And why, pray? Who will prevent me from doing it?”
“No one, most assuredly. But you will decide, on reflection, that a man who has not conducted himself too badly has a right to some consideration.”
The duke seemed greatly astonished.
“Consideration!” he exclaimed. “This rascal has a right to some consideration! Well, this is one of the poorest of jokes. What! I give him—that is to say—you give him a hundred thousand francs, and that will not content him! He is entitled to consideration! You, who are after the daughter, may give it to him if you like, but I shall do as I like!”
“Very well; but, Monsieur, I would think twice, if I were in your place. Lacheneur has surrendered Sairmeuse. That is all very well; but how can you authenticate your claim to the property? What would you do if, in case you imprudently irritated him, he should change his mind? What would become of your right to the estate?”
M. Sairmeuse actually turned green.
“Zounds!” he exclaimed. “I had not thought of that. Here, you fellows, take all these things back again, and that quickly!”
And as they were obeying his order:
“Now,” he remarked, “let us hasten to Courtornieu. They have already sent for us twice. It must be business of the utmost importance which demands our attention.”
The Chateau de Courtornieu is, next to Sairmeuse, the most magnificent habitation in the arrondissement of Montaignac.
The approach to the castle was by a long and narrow road, badly paved. When the carriage containing Martial and his father turned from the public highway into this rough road, the jolting aroused the duke from the profound revery into which he had fallen on leaving Sairmeuse.