A wish thus expressed was a command. The marquis bowed and obeyed.
“She dismisses me,” he said to himself as he ascended the staircase, “nothing could be more evident; and that without much ceremony. Why the devil does she wish to get rid of me?”
Why? Because a single peal of the bell announced a visitor for Mlle. Blanche; because she was expecting a visit from her friend; and because she wished at any cost to prevent a meeting between Martial and Marie-Anne.
She did not love him, and yet an agony of jealousy was torturing her. Such was her nature.
Her presentiments were realized. It was, indeed, Mlle. Lacheneur who was awaiting her in the drawing-room.
The poor girl was paler than usual; but nothing in her manner betrayed the frightful anguish she had suffered during the past two or three days.
And her voice, in asking from her former friend a list of “customers,” was as calm and as natural as in other days, when she was asking her to come and spend an afternoon at Sairmeuse.
So, when the two girls embraced each other, their roles were reversed.
It was Marie-Anne who had been crushed by misfortune; it was Mlle. Blanche who wept.
But, while writing a list of the names of persons in the neighborhood with whom she was acquainted, Mlle. de Courtornieu did not neglect this favorable opportunity for verifying the suspicions which had been aroused by Martial’s momentary agitation.
“It is inconceivable,” she remarked to her friend, “that the Duc de Sairmeuse should allow you to be reduced to such an extremity.”
Marie-Anne’s nature was so royal, that she did not wish an unjust accusation to rest even upon the man who had treated her father so cruelly.
“The duke is not to blame,” she replied, gently; “he offered us a very considerable sum, this morning, through his son.”
Mlle. Blanche started as if a viper had stung her.
“So you have seen the marquis, Marie-Anne?”
“Has he been to your house?”
“He was going there, when he met me in the grove on the waste.”
She blushed as she spoke; she turned crimson at the thought of Martial’s impertinent gallantry.
This girl who had just emerged from a convent was terribly experienced; but she misunderstood the cause of Marie-Anne’s confusion. She could dissimulate, however, and when Marie-Anne went away, Mlle. Blanche embraced her with every sign of the most ardent affection. But she was almost suffocated with rage.
“What!” she thought; “they have met but once, and yet they are so strongly impressed with each other. Do they love each other already?”
If Martial had faithfully reported to Mlle. Blanche all that he heard in the Marquis de Courtornieu’s cabinet, he would probably have astonished her a little.