The matter that brought Monsieur de Tressan to Condillac—and brought him in most fearful haste—was the matter of the courier who had that day arrived at the chateau.

News of it had reached the ears of my Lord Seneschal. His mind had been a prey to uneasiness concerning this business of rebellion in which he had so rashly lent a hand, and he was anxious to know whence came this courier and what news he brought. But for all his haste he had paused—remembering it was the Marquise he went to visit—to don the gorgeous yellow suit with the hanging sleeves which he had had from Paris, and the crimson sash he had bought at Taillemant’s, all in the very latest mode.

Thus arrayed, his wig well curled and a clump of it caught in ribbon of flame-coloured silk on the left side, his sword hanging from belt and carriages richly wrought with gold, and the general courtier-like effect rather marred by the heavy riding-boots which he would have liked to leave behind yet was constrained to wear, he presented himself before the Dowager, hiding his anxiety in a melting smile, and the latter in the profoundest of bows.

The graciousness of his reception overwhelmed him almost, for in his supreme vanity he lacked the wit to see that this cordiality might be dictated by no more than the need they had of him at Condillac. A lackey placed a great chair for him by the fire that he might warm himself after his evening ride, and the Dowager, having ordered lights, sat herself opposite him with the hearth between them.

He simpered awhile and toyed with trivialities of speech before he gave utterance to the matter that absorbed him. Then, at last, when they were alone, he loosed the question that was bubbling on his lips.

“I hear a courier came to Condillac to-day.”

For answer she told him what he sought to learn, whence came that courier, and what the message that he brought.

“And so, Monsieur de Tressan,” she ended, “my days at Condillac are numbered.”

“Why so?” he asked, “since you say that Florimond has adopted towards you a friendly tone. Surely he would not drive his father’s widow hence?”

She smiled at the fire in a dreamy, pensive manner.

“No,” said she, “he would not drive me hence. He has offered me the shelter of Condillac for as long as it may pleasure me to make it my home.”

“Excellent!” he exclaimed, rubbing his little fat hands and screwing the little features of his huge red face into the grotesque semblance of a smile. “What need to talk of going, then?”

“What need?” she echoed, in a voice dull and concentrated. “Do you ask that, Tressan? Do you think I should elect to live upon the charity of this man?”

For all that the Lord Seneschal may have been dull-witted, yet he had wit enough to penetrate to the very marrow of her meaning.

“You must hate Florimond very bitterly,” said he. She shrugged her shoulders.

“I possess, I think, the faculty of feeling strongly. I can love well, monsieur, and I can hate well. It is one or the other with me. And as cordially as I love my own son Marius, as cordially do I detest this coxcomb Florimond.”

She expressed no reasons for her hatred of her late husband’s elder son. Hers were not reasons that could easily be put into words. They were little reasons, trivial grains of offence which through long years had accumulated into a mountain. They had their beginning in the foolish grievance that had its birth with her own son, when she had realized that but for that rosy-cheeked, well-grown boy borne to the Marquis by his first wife, Marius would have been heir to Condillac. Her love of her own child and her ambitions for him, her keen desire to see him fill an exalted position in the world, caused her a thousand times a day to wish his half-brother dead. Yet Florimond had flourished and grown, and as he grew he manifested a character which, with all its imperfections, was more lovable than the nature of her own offspring. And their common father had never seen aught but the faults of Marius and the virtues of Florimond. She had resented this, and Marius had resented it; and Marius, having inherited with his mother’s beauty his mother’s arrogant, dominant spirit, had returned with insolence such admonitions as from time to time his father gave him, and thus the breach had grown. Later, since he could not be heir to Condillac, the Marquise’s eyes, greedy of advancement for him, had fallen covetously upon the richer La Vauvraye, whose lord had then no son, whose heiress was a little girl.

By an alliance easy to compass, since the lords of Condillac and La Vauvraye were lifelong friends, Marius’s fortunes might handsomely have been mended. Yet when she herself bore the suggestion of it to the Marquis, he had seized upon it, approved it, but adopted it for Florimond’s benefit instead.

Thereafter war had raged fiercely in the family of Condillac—a war between the Marquis and Florimond on the one side, and the Marquise and Marius on the other. And so bitterly was it waged that it was by the old Marquis’s suggestion that at last Florimond had gone upon his travels to see the world and carry arms in foreign service.

Her hopes that he would take his death, as was a common thing when warring, rose high—so high as to become almost assurance, a thing to be reckoned with. Florimond would return no more, and her son should fill the place to which he was entitled by his beauty of person and the high mental gifts his doting mother saw in him.

Yet the months grew into years, and at long intervals full of hope for the Marquise news came of Florimond, and the news was ever that he was well and thriving, gathering honours and drinking deep of life.

And now, at last, when matters seemed to have been tumbled into her lap that she might dispose of them as she listed; now, when in her anxiety to see her son supplant his step-brother in the possession of La Vauvraye—if not, perhaps, in that of Condillac as well she had done a rashness which might end in making her and Marius outlaws, news came that this hated Florimond was at the door; tardily returned, yet returned in time to overthrow her schemes and to make her son the pauper that her husband’s will had seemed to aim at rendering him.

Her mind skimmed lightly over all these matters, seeking somewhere some wrong that should stand out stark and glaring, upon which she might seize, and offer it to the Seneschal as an explanation of her hatred. But nowhere could she find the thing she sought. Her hatred had for foundation a material too impalpable to be fashioned into words. Tressan’s voice aroused her from her thoughts.

“Have you laid no plans, madame?” he asked her. “It were surely a madness now to attempt to withstand the Marquis.”

“The Marquis? Ah yes—Florimond.” She sat forward out of the shadows in which her great chair enveloped her, and let candle and firelight play about the matchless beauty of her perfect face. There was a flush upon it, the flush of battle; and she was about to tell the Seneschal that not while one stone of Condillac should stand upon another, not while a gasp of breath remained in her frail body, would she surrender. But she checked her rashness. Well might it be that in the end she should abandon such a purpose. Tressan was ugly as a toad, the most absurd, ridiculous bridegroom that ever led woman to the altar. Yet rumour ran that he was rich, and as a last resource, for the sake of his possessions she might bring herself to endure his signal shortcomings.

“I have taken no resolve as yet,” said she, in a wistful voice. “I founded hopes upon Marius which Marius threatens to frustrate. I think I had best resign myself to the poverty of my Touraine home.”

And then the Seneschal realized that the time was now. The opportunity he might have sought in vain was almost thrust upon him. In the spirit he blessed Florimond for returning so opportunely; in the flesh he rose from the chair and, without more ado, he cast himself upon his knees before the Dowager. He cast himself down, and the Dowager experienced a faint stirring of surprise that she heard no flop such as must attend the violent falling of so fat a body. But the next instant, realizing the purpose of his absurd posture, she shrank back with a faint gasp, and her face was mercifully blurred to his sight once more amid the shadows of her chair. Thus was he spared the look of utter loathing, of unconquerable, irrepressible disgust that leapt into her countenance.

His voice quivered with ridiculous emotion, his little fat red fingers trembled as he outheld them in a theatrical gesture of supplication.

“Never contemplate poverty, madame, until you have discarded me,” he implored her. “Say but that you will, and you shall be lady of Tressan. All that I have would prove but poor adornment to a beauty such as yours, and I should shrink from offering it you, were it not that, with it all, I can offer you the fondest heart in France. Marquise—Clotilde, I cast myself humbly at your feet. Do with me as you will. I love you.”

By an effort she crushed down her loathing of him—a loathing that grew a hundredfold as she beheld him now transformed by his amorousness into the semblance almost of a satyr—and listened to his foolish rantings.

As Marquise de Condillac it hurt her pride to listen and not have him whipped for his audacity; as a woman it insulted her. Yet the Marquise and the woman she alike repressed. She would give him no answer—she could not, so near was she to fainting with disdain of him—yet must she give him hope against the time when, should all else fail, she might have to swallow the bitter draught he was now holding to her lips. So she temporized.

She controlled her voice into a tone of gentle sadness; she set a mask of sorrow upon her insolent face.

“Monsieur, monsieur,” she sighed, and so far overcame her nausea as for an instant to touch his hand in a little gesture of caress, “you must not speak so to a widow of six months, nor must I listen.”

The quivering grew in his hands and voice; but no longer did they shake through fear of a rebuff: they trembled now in the eager strength of the hope he gathered from her words. She was so beautiful, so peerless, so noble, so proud—and he so utterly unworthy—that naught but her plight had given him courage to utter his proposal. And she answered him in such terms!

“You give me hope, Marquise? If I come again—?”

She sighed, and her face, which was once more within the light, showed a look of sad inquiry.

“If I thought that what you have said, you have said out of pity, because you fear lest my necessities should hurt me, I could give you no hope at all. I have my pride, mon ami. But if what you have said you would still have said though I had continued mistress of Condillac, then, Tressan, you may repeat it to me hereafter, at a season when I may listen.”

His joy welled up and overflowed in him as overflows a river in time of spate.

He bent forward, caught her hand, and bore it to his lips.

“Clotilde!” he cried, in a smothered voice; then the door opened, and Marius stepped into the long chamber.

At the creaking sound of the opening door the Seneschal bestirred himself to rise. Even the very young care not so to be surprised, how much less, then, a man well past the prime of life? He came up laboriously—the more laboriously by virtue of his very efforts to show himself still nimble in his mistress’s eyes. Upon the intruder he turned a crimson, furious face, perspiration gleaming like varnish on brow and nose. At sight of Marius, who stood arrested, scowling villainously upon the pair, the fire died suddenly from his glance.

“Ah, my dear Marius,” said he, with a flourish and an air of being mightily at his ease. But the young man’s eyes went over and beyond him to rest in a look of scrutiny upon his mother. She had risen too, and he had been in time to see the startled manner of her rising. In her cheeks there was a guilty flush, but her eyes boldly met and threw back her son’s regard.

Marius came slowly down the room, and no word was spoken. The Seneschal cleared his throat with noisy nervousness. Madame stood hand on hip, the flush fading slowly, her glance resuming its habitual lazy insolence. By the fire Marius paused and kicked the logs into a blaze, regardless of the delicate fabric of his rosetted shoes.

“Monsieur le Seneschal,” said madame calmly, “came to see us in the matter of the courier.”

“Ah!” said Marius, with an insolent lifting of his brows and a sidelong look at Tressan; and Tressan registered in his heart a vow that when he should have come to wed the mother, he would not forget to take payment for that glance from her pert son.

“Monsieur le Comte will remain and sup with us before riding back to Grenoble,” she added.

“Ah!” said he again, in the same tone. And that for the moment was all he said. He remained by the fire, standing between them where he had planted himself in the flesh, as if to symbolize the attitude he intended in the spirit.

But one chance he had, before supper was laid, of a word alone with his mother, in her own closet.

“Madame,” he said, his sternness mingling with alarm, “are you mad that you encourage the suit of this hedgehog Tressan?”

She looked him up and down with a deliberate eye, her lip curling a little.

“Surely, Marius, it is my own concern.”

“Not so,” he answered her, and his grasp fastened almost viciously on her wrist. “I think that it is mine as well. Mother, bethink you,” and his tone changed to an imploring key, “bethink you what you would do! Would you—you—mate with such a thing as that?”

His emphasis of the pronoun was very eloquent. Not in all the words of the French language could he have told her better how high he placed her in his thoughts, how utterly she must fall, how unutterably be soiled by an alliance with Tressan.

“I had hoped you would have saved me from it, Marius,” she answered him, her eyes seeming to gaze down into the depths of his. “At La Vauvraye I had hoped to live out my widowhood in tranquil dignity. But—” She let her arms fall sharply to her sides, and uttered a little sneering laugh.

“But, mother,” he cried, “between the dignity of La Vauvraye and the indignity of Tressan, surely there is some middle course?”

“Aye,” she answered scornfully, “starvation on a dunghill in Touraine—or something near akin to it, for which I have no stomach.”

He released her wrist and stood with bent head, clenching and unclenching his long white hands, and she watched him, watching in him the working of his proud and stubborn spirit.

“Mother,” he cried at last, and the word sounded absurd between them, by so little did he seem the younger of the twain, “mother, you shall not do it you must not!”

“You leave me little alternative—alas!” sighed she. “Had you been more adroit you had been wed by now, Marius, and the future would give us no concern. As it is, Florimond comes home, and we—” She spread her hands and thrust out her nether lip in a grimace that was almost ugly. Then: “Come,” she said briskly. “Supper is laid, and my Lord Seneschal will be awaiting us.”

And before he could reply she had swept past him and taken her way below. He followed gloomily, and in gloom sat he at table, never heeding the reckless gaiety of the Seneschal and the forced mirth of the Marquise. He well understood the sort of tacit bargain that his mother had made with him. She had seen her advantage in his loathing of the proposed union with Tressan, and she had used it to the full. Either he must compel Valerie to wed him this side of Saturday or resign himself to see his mother—his beautiful, peerless mother—married to this skin of lard that called itself a man.

Living, he had never entertained for his father a son’s respect, nor, dead, did he now reverence his memory as becomes a son. But in that hour, as he sat at table, facing this gross wooer of his mother’s, his eyes were raised to the portrait of the florid-visaged haughty Marquis de Condillac, where it looked down upon them from the panelled wall, and from his soul he offered up to that portrait of his dead sire an apology for the successor whom his widow destined him.

He ate little, but drank great draughts, as men will when their mood is sullen and dejected, and the heat of the wine, warming his veins and lifting from him some of the gloom that had settled over him, lent him anon a certain recklessness very different from the manner of his sober moments.

Chancing suddenly to raise his eyes from the cup into which he had been gazing, absorbed as gazes a seer into his crystal, he caught on the Seneschal’s lips so odious a smile, in the man’s eyes so greedy, hateful a leer as he bent them on the Marquise, that he had much ado not to alter the expression of that flabby face by hurling at it the cup he held.

He curbed himself; he smiled sardonically upon the pair; and in that moment he swore that be the cost what it might, he would frustrate the union of those two. His thoughts flew to Valerie, and the road they took was fouled with the mud of ugly deeds. A despair, grim at first, then mocking, took possession of him. He loved Valerie to distraction. Loved her for herself, apart from all worldly advantages that must accrue to him from an alliance with her. His mother saw in that projected marriage no more than the acquisition of the lands of La Vauvraye, and she may even have thought that he himself saw no more. In that she was wrong; but because of it she may have been justified of her impatience with him at the tardiness, the very clumsiness with which he urged his suit. How was she to know that it was just the sincerity of his passion made him clumsy? For like many another, normally glib, self-assured, and graceful, Marius grew halting, shy, and clumsy only where he loved.

But in the despair that took him now the quality of his passion seemed to change. Partly it was the wine, partly the sight of this other lover—of whom there must be an end—whose very glance seemed to him an insult to his mother. His imagination had taken fire that night, and it had ripened him for any villainy. The Seneschal and the wine, between them, had opened the floodgates of all that was evil in his nature, and that evil thundered out in a great torrent that bid fair to sweep all before it.

And suddenly, unexpectedly for the others, who were by now resigned to his moody silence, the evil found expression. The Marquise had spoken of something—something of slight importance—that must be done before Florimond returned. Abruptly Marius swung round in his seat to face his mother. “Must this Florimond return?” he asked, and for all that he uttered no more words, so ample in their expression were those four that he had uttered and the tone of them, that his meaning left little work to the imagination.

Madame turned to stare at him, surprise ineffable in her glance—not at the thing that he suggested, but at the abruptness with which the suggestion came. The cynical, sneering tone rang in her ears after the words were spoken, and she looked in his face for a confirmation of their full purport.

She observed the wine-flush on his cheek, the wine-glitter in his eye, and she remarked the slight smile on his lips and the cynical assumption of nonchalance with which he fingered the jewel in his ear as he returned her gaze. She beheld now in her son a man more purposeful than she had ever known before.

A tense silence had followed his words, and the Lord Seneschal gaped at him, some of the colour fading from his plethoric countenance, suspecting as he did the true drift of Marius’s suggestion. At last it was madame who spoke—very softly, with a narrowing of the eyes.

“Call Fortunio,” was all she said, but Marius understood full well the purpose for which she would have Fortunio called.

With a half-smile he rose, and going to the door he bade his page who was idling in the anteroom go summon the captain. Then he paced slowly back, not to the place he had lately occupied at table, but to the hearth, where he took his stand with his shoulders squared to the overmantel.

Fortunio came, fair-haired and fresh-complexioned as a babe, his supple, not ungraceful figure tawdrily clad in showy clothes of poor material the worse for hard usage and spilt wine. The Countess bade him sit, and with her own hands she poured a cup of Anjou for him.

In some wonder, and, for all his ordinary self-possession, with a little awkwardness, the captain did her bidding, and with an apologetic air he took the seat she offered him.

He drank this wine, and here was a spell of silence till Marius, grown impatient, brutally put the thing for which the Marquise sought delicate words.

“We have sent for you, Fortunio,” said he, in a blustering tone, “to inquire of you what price you’d ask to cut the throat of my brother, the Marquis de Condillac.”

The Seneschal sank back in his chair with a gasp. The captain, a frown between his frank-seeming, wide-set eyes, started round to look at the boy. The business was by no means too strong for the ruffler’s stomach, but the words in which it was conveyed to him most emphatically were.

“Monsieur de Condillac,” said he, with an odd assumption of dignity, “I think you have mistaken your man. I am a soldier, not a cut-throat.”

“But yes,” the Marquise soothed him, throwing herself instantly into the breach, and laying a long, slender hand upon the frayed green velvet of the captain’s sleeve. “What my son means and what he says are vastly different things.”

“It will sorely tax your wits, madame,” laughed Marius brutally, “to make clear that difference.”

And then the Seneschal nervously cleared his throat and muttering that it waxed late and he must be riding home, made shift to rise. Him, too, the Marquise at once subdued. She was not minded that he should go just yet. It might be useful to her hereafter to have had him present at this conference, into which she meant to draw him until she should have made him one with them, a party to their guilt. For the task she needed not over many words: just one or two and a melting glance or so, and the rebellion in his bosom was quelled at once.

But with the captain her wiles were not so readily successful. He had no hopes of winning her to wife—haply no desire, since he was not a man of very great ambitions. On the other hand, he had against him the very worst record in France, and for all that he might embark upon this business under the auspices of the Lord Seneschal himself, he knew not how far the Lord Seneschal might dare to go thereafter to save him from a hanging, should it come to that.

He said as much in words. In a business of this kind, he knew from experience, the more difficulties he advanced, the better a bargain he drove in the end; and if he was to be persuaded to risk his neck in this, he should want good payment. But even for good payment on this occasion he was none too sure as yet that he would let himself be persuaded.

“Monsieur Fortunio,” the Marquise said, very softly, “heed not Monsieur Marius’s words. Attend to me. The Marquis de Condillac, as no doubt you will have learned for yourself, is lying at La Rochette. Now it happens that he is noxious to us—let the reasons be what they may. We need a friend to put him out of our way. Will you be that friend?”

“You will observe,” sneered Marius, “how wide a difference there is between what the Marquise suggests and my own frank question of what price you would take to cut my brother’s throat.”

“I observe no difference, which is what you would say,” Fortunio answered truculently, his head well back, his brown eyes resentful of offence—for none can be so resentful of imputed villainy as your villain who is thorough-paced. “And,” he concluded, “I return you the same answer, madame—that I am no cut-throat.”

She repressed her anger at Marius’s sneering interference, and made a little gesture of dismay with her eloquent white hands.

“But we do not ask you to cut a throat.”

“I have heard amiss, then,” said he, his insolence abating nothing.

“You have heard aright, but you have understood amiss. There are other ways of doing these things. If it were but the cutting of a throat, should we have sent for you? There are a dozen in the garrison would have sufficed for our purpose.”

“What is it, then, you need?” quoth he.

“We want an affair contrived with all decency. The Marquis is at the Sanglier Noir at La Rochette. You can have no difficulty in finding him, and having found him, less difficulty still in giving or provoking insult.”

“Excellent,” murmured Marius from the background. “It is such an enterprise as should please a ready swordsman of your calibre, Fortunio.”

“A duel?” quoth the fellow, and his insolence went out of him, thrust out by sheer dismay; his mouth fell open. A duel was another affair altogether. “But, Sangdieu! what if he should slay me? Have you thought of that?”

“Slay you?” cried the Marquise, her eyes resting on his face with an expression as of wonder at such a question. “You jest, Fortunio.”

“And he with the fever,” put in Marius, sneering.

“Ah!” muttered Fortunio. “He has the fever? The fever is something. But—but—accidents will happen.”

“Florimond was ever an indifferent swordsman,” murmured Marius dreamily, as if communing with himself.

The captain wheeled upon him once more.

“Why, then, Monsieur Marius,” said he, “since that is so and you are skilled—as skilled as am I, or more—and he has a fever, where is the need to hire me to the task?”

“Where?” echoed Marius. “What affair may that be of yours? We ask you to name a price on which you will do this thing. Have done with counter-questions.”

Marius was skilled with the foils, as Fortunio said, but he cared not for unbaited steel, and he was conscious of it, so that the captain’s half-sneer had touched him on the raw. But he was foolish to take that tone in answer. There was a truculent, Southern pride in the ruffler which sprang immediately into life and which naught that they could say thereafter would stamp out.

“Must I say again that you mistake your man?” was his retort, and as he spoke he rose, as though to signify that the subject wearied him and that his remaining to pursue it must be idle. “I am not of those to whom you can say: ‘I need such a one killed, name me the price at which you’ll be his butcher’.”

The Marquise wrung her hands in pretty mimicry of despair, and poured out soothing words, as one might pour oil upon stormy waters. The Seneschal sat in stolid silence, a half-scared spectator of this odd scene, what time the Marquise talked and talked until she had brought Fortunio back to some measure of subjection.

Such reasoning as she made use of she climaxed by an offer of no less a sum than a hundred pistoles. The captain licked his lips and pulled at his mustachios. For all his vaunted scorn of being a butcher at a price, now that he heard the price he seemed not half so scornful.

“Tell me again the thing that you need doing and the manner of it,” said he, as one who was moved to reconsider. She told him, and when she had done he made a compromise.

“If I go upon this business, madame, I go not alone.”

“Oh, as for that,” said Marius, “it shall be as you will. Take what men you want with you.”

“And hang with them afterwards, maybe,” he sneered, his insolence returning. “The hundred pistoles would avail me little then. Look you, Monsieur de Condillac, and you, madame, if I go, I’ll need to take with me a better hostage than the whole garrison of this place. I’ll need for shield some one who will see to it that he is not hurt himself, just as I shall see to it that he is hurt before I am.”

“What do you mean? Speak out, Fortunio,” the Marquise bade him.

“I mean, madame, that I will go, not to do this thing, but to stand by and render help if help be needed. Let Monsieur de Condillac go, and I will go with him, and I will undertake to see to it that he returns unhurt and that we leave the other stark.”

Both started, and the Seneschal leaned heavily upon the table. He was not, with all his faults, a man of blood, and this talk of butchery turned him sick and faint.

Vainly now did the Marquise seek to alter the captain’s resolution; but in this she received a sudden check from Marius himself. He cut in upon her arguments to ask the captain:

“How can you promise so much? Do you mean that you and I must fall upon him? You forget that he will have men about him. A duel is one thing, a rough-and-tumble another, and we shall fare none so well in this, I’m thinking.”

The captain closed one eye, and a leer of subtle cunning overspread his face.

“I’ve thought of that,” said he. “Neither a duel nor a rough-and-tumble do I propose, but something between the two; something that shall seem a duel yet be a rough-and-tumble.”

“Explain yourself.”

“What further explanation does it ask? We come upon Monsieur le Marquis where his men are not. We penetrate, let us say, into his chamber. I turn the key in the door. We are alone with him and you provoke him. He is angry, and must fight you there and then. I am your friend; I must fill the office of second for both sides. You engage, and I stand aside and let you fight it out. You say he is indifferently skilled with the sword, and, in addition, that he has a fever. Thus you should contrive to put your steel through him, and a duel it will have been. But if by luck or skill he should have you in danger, I shall be at hand to flick in my sword at the right moment and make an opening through which you may send yours home.”

“Believe me it were better—” began the Dowager. But Marius, who of a sudden was much taken with the notion, again broke in.

“Are you to be depended upon to make no mistake, Fortunio?”

“Per Bacco!” swore the ruffler. “A mistake must cost me a hundred pistoles. I think you may depend upon me there. If I err at all, it will be on the side of eagerness to see you make short work of him. You have my answer now, monsieur. If we talk all night, you shall not move me further. But if my proposal suits you, I am your man.”

“And I yours, Fortunio,” answered Marius, and there was a ring almost of exultation in his voice.

The Dowager looked from one to the other, as if she were weighing the men and satisfying herself that Marius ran no risk. She put a question or two to her son, another to the captain; then, seeming satisfied with what had been agreed, she nodded her head and told them they had best be stirring with the dawn.

“You will have light enough by half-past six. Do not delay later in taking the road. And see that you are back here by nightfall; I shall be anxious till you are returned.”

She poured wine again for the captain, and Marius coming up to the table filled himself a glass, which he tossed off. The Marquise was speaking to Tressan.

“Will you not drink to the success of the venture?” she asked him, in a coaxing tone, her eyes upon his own. “I think we are like to see the end of our troubles now, monsieur, and Marius shall be lord both of Condillac and La Vauvraye.”

And the gross, foolish Seneschal, under the spell of her magnificent eyes, slowly raised his cup to his lips and drank to the success of that murderous business. Marius stood still, a frown between his eyes haled thither by the mention of La Vauvraye. He might be winning it, as his mother said, but he would have preferred to have won it differently. Then the frown was smoothed away; a sardonic smile replaced it; another cup of wine he poured himself. Then, without word to any there, he turned on his heel and went from the room, a trifle unsteady in his gait, yet with such lines of purposefulness in the way he bore himself that the three of them stared after him in dull surprise.

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