She cowered away from me at the words, and stood terror-stricken, gazing at me like one fascinated. But she did not answer,
"Because," I cried, "your story is a tissue of lies! Because it was you, and you only, who stole this paper! Because--Down on your knees! down on your knees!" I thundered, "and confess! Confess, or I will have you whipped at the cart's tail, like the false witness you are!"
She threw herself down shrieking, and caught my wife by the skirts, and in a breath had said all I wanted; and more than enough to show me that I had suspected Vilain without cause, and both played the simpleton myself and harried my household to distraction.
So far good. I could arrange matters with Vilain, and probably avoid publicity. But what was now to be done with her?
In the case of a man I should have thought no punishment too severe, and the utmost rigour of the law too tender for such perfidy; but as she was a woman, and young, and under my wife's protection, I hesitated. Finally, the Duchess interceding, I leaned to the side of that mercy which the girl had not shown to her lover; and thought her sufficiently punished, at the moment by the presence of Mademoiselle de Figeac whom I called into the room to witness her humiliation, and in the future by dismissal from my household. As this imported banishment to her father's country-house, where her mother, a shrewd old Bearnaise, saved pence and counted lentils into the soup, and saw company once a quarter, I had perhaps reason to be content with her chastisement.
For the rest I sent for M. de Vilain, and by finding him employment in the finances, and interceding for him with the old Vicomte de Figeac, confirmed him in the attachment he had begun to feel for me before this unlucky event; nor do I doubt that I should have been able in time to advance him to a post worthy of the talents I discerned in him. But, alas, the deplorable crime, which so soon deprived me at one blow of my master and of power, put an end to this, among other and greater schemes.
Without attaching to dreams greater importance than a prudent man will always be willing to assign to the unknown and unintelligible, I have been in the habit of reflecting on them; and have observed with some curiosity that in these later years of my life, during which France has enjoyed peace and comparative prosperity, my dreams have most often reproduced the stormy rides and bivouacs of my youth, with all the rough and bloody accompaniments which our day knows only by repute. Considering these visions, and comparing my sleeping apathy with my daylight reflections, I have been led to wonder at the power of habit; which alone makes it possible for a man who has seen a dozen stricken fields, and viewed, scarcely with emotion, the slaughter of a hundred prisoners, to turn pale at the sight of a coach accident, and walk a mile rather than see a rogue hang.
I am impelled to this train of thought by an adventure that befell me in the summer of this year 1605; and which, as it seemed to me in the happening to be rather an evil dream of old times than a waking episode of these, may afford the reader some diversion, besides relieving the necessary tedium of the thousand particulars of finance that render the five farms a study of the utmost intricacy.
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