This discourse could not have failed to arouse intense anxiety in M. d’Escorval’s breast had he seen the ferocity expressed on almost every face.
Still no one spoke; hesitation could be read in every eye.
Martial, too, had turned so white that Mlle. Blanche remarked his pallor and thought he was ill.
In fact, a terrible struggle was going on in the soul of the young marquis; a conflict between his honor and passion.
Had he not longed only a few hours before to find some way of driving Maurice from the country?
Ah, well! the opportunity he so ardently desired now presented itself. It was impossible to imagine a better one. If the proposed step was taken the Baron d’Escorval and his family would be forced to leave France forever!
The company hesitated; Martial saw it, and felt that a single word from him, for or against, would decide the matter.
After a few minutes of frightful uncertainty, honor triumphed.
He rose and declared that the proposed measure was bad—impolitic.
“Monsieur d’Escorval,” he remarked, “is one of those men who diffuse around them a perfume of honesty and justice. Have the good sense to respect the consideration which is justly his.”
As he had foreseen, his words decided the matter. The cold and haughty manner which he knew so well how to assume, his few but incisive words, produced a great effect.
“It would evidently be a great mistake!” was the general cry.
Martial reseated himself; Mlle. Blanche leaned toward him.
“You have done well,” she murmured; “you know how to defend your friends.”
“Monsieur d’Escorval is not my friend,” replied Martial, in a voice which revealed the struggle through which he had passed. “The injustice of the proposed measure incensed me, that is all.”
Mlle. de Courtornieu was not to be deceived by an explanation like this. Still she added:
“Then your conduct is all the more grand, Monsieur.”
But such was not the opinion of the Duc de Sairmeuse. On returning to the chateau some hours later he reproached his son for his intervention.
“Why the devil did you meddle with the matter?” inquired the duke. “I would not have liked to take upon myself the odium of the proposition, but since it had been made——”
“I was anxious to prevent such an act of useless folly!”
“Useless folly! Zounds! Marquis, you carry matters with a high hand. Do you think that this d——d baron adores you? What would you say if you heard that he was conspiring against us?”
“I should answer with a shrug of the shoulders.”
“You would! Very well; do me the favor to question Chupin.”
It was only two weeks since the Duc de Sairmeuse had returned to France; he had not yet had time to shake the dust of exile from his feet, and already his imagination saw enemies on every side.