And without waiting for any response, he turned and retraced his steps.
M. d’Escorval was amazed and confounded.
“One might suppose there was a conspiracy to drive me away!” he murmured. “But I have good reason to distrust the disinterestedness of this young man.”
Martial was already far off. Had he been less preoccupied, he would have perceived two figures in the wood. Mlle. Blanche de Courtornieu, followed by the inevitable Aunt Medea, had come to play the spy.
The Marquis de Courtornieu idolized his daughter. Everyone spoke of that as an incontestable and uncontested fact.
When persons spoke to him of his daughter, they always said:
“You, who adore your daughter——”
And when he spoke of himself, he said:
“I who adore Blanche.”
The truth was, that he would have given a good deal, even a third of his fortune, to be rid of her.
This smiling young girl, who seemed such an artless child, had gained an absolute control over him. She forced him to bow like a reed to her every caprice—and Heaven knows she had enough of them!
In the hope of making his escape, he had thrown her Aunt Medea; but in less than three months that poor woman had been completely subjugated, and did not serve to divert his daughter’s attention from him, even for a moment.
Sometimes the marquis revolted, but nine times out of ten he paid dearly for his attempts at rebellion. When Mlle. Blanche turned her cold and steel-like eyes upon him with a certain peculiar expression, his courage evaporated. Her weapon was irony; and knowing his weak points, she struck with wonderful precision.
It is easy to understand how devoutly he prayed and hoped that some honest young man, by speedily marrying his daughter, would free him from this cruel bondage.
But where was he to find this liberator?
The marquis had announced everywhere his intention of bestowing a dowry of a million upon his daughter. Of course this had brought a host of eager suitors, not only from the immediate neighborhood, but from parts remote.
But, unfortunately, though many of them would have suited M. de Courtornieu well enough, not a single one had been so fortunate as to please Mlle. Blanche.
Her father presented some suitor; she received him graciously, lavished all her charms upon him; but as soon as his back was turned, she disappointed all her father’s hopes by rejecting him.
“He is too small,” she said, “or too large. His rank is not equal to ours. I think him stupid. He is a fool—his nose is so ugly.”
From these summary decisions there was no appeal. Arguments and persuasions were useless. The condemned man no longer existed.
Still, as this view of aspirants to her hand amused her, she encouraged her father in his efforts. He was beginning to despair, when fate dropped the Duc de Sairmeuse and son at his very door. When he saw Martial, he had a presentiment of his approaching release.