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Before Mademoiselle de Guerchi had recovered from her fright the commander spoke.
"As I am a gentleman, my beauty, if you were the Abbess of Montmartre, you could not
be more difficult of access. I met a blackguard on the stairs who tried to stop me, and
whom I was obliged to thrash soundly. Is what they told me on my return true? Are you
really doing penance, and do you intend to take the veil?"
"Sir," answered Angelique, with great dignity, "whatever may be my plans, I have a right
to be surprised at your violence and at your intrusion at such an hour."
"Before we go any farther," said de Jars, twirling round on his heels, "allow me to
present to you my nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges."
"Chevalier de Moranges!" muttered Quennebert, on whose memory in that instant the
name became indelibly engraven.
"A young man," continued the commander, "who has come back with me from abroad.
Good style, as you see, charming appearance. Now, you young innocent, lift up your
great black eyes and kiss madame's hand; I allow it."
"Monsieur le commandeur, leave my room; begone, or I shall call----"
"Whom, then? Your lackeys? But I have beaten the only one you keep, as I told you,
and it will be some time before he'll be in a condition to light me downstairs: 'Begone,'
indeed! Is that the way you receive an old friend? Pray be seated, chevalier."
He approached Mademoiselle de Guerchi, and, despite her resistance, seized hold of
one of her hands, and forcing her to sit down, seated himself beside her.
"That's right, my girl," said he; "now let us talk sense. I understand that before a
stranger you consider yourself obliged to appear astonished at my ways of going on.
But he knows all about us, and nothing he may see or hear will surprise him. So a truce
to prudery! I came back yesterday, but I could not make out your hiding-place till to-day.
Now I'm not going to ask you to tell me how you have gone on in my absence. God and
you alone know, and while He will tell me nothing, you would only tell me fibs, and I
want to save you from that venial sin at least. But here I am, in as good spirits as ever,
more in love than ever, and quite ready to resume my old habits."
Meantime the lady, quite subdued by his noisy entrance and ruffianly conduct, and
seeing that an assumption of dignity would only draw down on her some fresh
impertinence, appeared to resign herself to her position. All this time Quennebert never
took his eyes from the chevalier, who sat with his face towards the partition. His