"On the contrary, madame," I answered, collecting myself for a last effort, and speaking with all the severity which a just indignation inspired, "I have not ruined you. But if you do not tell me that which I am here to learn--I will!"
She laughed out loud. "Oh, you simpleton!" she said. "And you call yourself a statesman! Do you not see that if I do not tell it, you are disgraced yourself and powerless, and can do me no harm? Tell it you? When I have you all on the hip--you, the King, the queen! Not for a million crowns, M. de Rosny!"
"And that is your answer, madame?" I said, choking with rage. It had been long since any had dared so to beard me.
"Yes," she replied stoutly; "it is! Or, stay; you shall not go empty-handed." And thrusting her arm under the pillow she drew out, after a moment's search, a small packet, which she held out towards me. "Take it!" she said, with a taunting laugh. "It has served my turn. What the King gave me, I give you."
Seeing that it was the missing key to the cipher, I swallowed my rage and took it; and being assured by this time that I could effect nothing by staying longer, but should only expose myself to fresh insults, I turned on my heel, with rudeness equal to her own, and, without taking leave of her, flung the door open and went out. I heard her throw herself back with a shrill laugh of triumph. But as, the moment the door fell to behind me, my thoughts began to cast about for another way of escape--this failing--I took little heed of her, and less of the derisive looks to which the household, quickly taking the cue, treated me as I passed. I flung myself into the saddle and galloped off, followed by Maignan, who presently, to my surprise, blurted out a clumsy word of congratulation.
I turned on him in amazement, and, swearing at him, asked him what he meant.
"You have got it," he said timidly, pointing to the packet which I mechanically held in my hand.
"And to what purpose?" I cried, glad of this opportunity of unloading some of my wrath. "I want, not the paper, but the secret, fool! You may have the paper for yourself if you will tell me how Madame got it."
Reminder: Arrow keys left and right (← →) to turn pages forward and backward, up and down (↑ ↓) to scroll up and down, Enter key: return to the list