He rushed after him, but the man escaped him.
He believed, however, that he recognized Maurice d’Escorval.
After his son’s confession, M. d’Escorval was prudent enough to make no allusion to the hopes he, himself, entertained.
“My poor Maurice,” he thought, “is heart-broken, but resigned. It is better for him to remain without hope than to be exposed to the danger of another disappointment.”
But passion is not always blind. What the baron concealed, Maurice divined; and he clung to this faint hope as tenaciously as a drowning man clings to the plank which is his only hope of salvation.
If he asked his parents no questions it was only because he was convinced that they would not tell him the truth.
But he watched all that went on in the house with that subtleness of penetration which fever so often imparts.
Not one of his father’s movements escaped his vigilant eye and ear.
Consequently, he heard him put on his boots, ask for his hat, and select a cane from among those standing in the vestibule. He also heard the outer gate grate upon its hinges.
“My father is going out,” he said to himself.
And weak as he was, he succeeded in dragging himself to the window in time to satisfy himself of the truth of his conjectures.
“If my father is going out,” he thought, “it can only be to visit Monsieur Lacheneur—–then he has not relinquished all hope.”
An arm-chair was standing nearby; he sank into it, intending to watch for his father’s return; by doing so, he might know his destiny a few moments sooner.
Three long hours passed before the baron returned.
By his father’s dejected manner he plainly saw that all hope was lost. He was sure of it; as sure as the criminal who reads the fatal verdict in the solemn face of the judge.
He had need of all his energy to regain his couch. For a moment he felt that he was dying.
But he was ashamed of this weakness, which he judged unworthy of him. He determined to know what had passed—to know the details.
He rang, and told the servant that he wished to speak to his father. M. d’Escorval promptly made his appearance.
“Well?” cried Maurice.
M. d’Escorval felt that denial was useless.
“Lacheneur is deaf to my remonstrances and to my entreaties,” he replied, sadly. “Nothing remains for you but to submit, my son. I shall not tell you that time will assuage the sorrow that now seems insupportable—you would not believe me. But I do say to you, that you are a man, and that you must prove your courage. I say even more: fight against thoughts of Marie-Anne as a traveller on the verge of a precipice fights against the thought of vertigo.”
“Have you seen Marie-Anne, father? Have you spoken to her?”