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So long as a servant was present, no other words passed between
them. When coffee had been served and they were alone together,
the nephew, looking at the uncle and meeting the eyes of the face
that was like a fine mask, opened a conversation.
“I have come back, sir, as you anticipate, pursuing the object that
took me away. It carried me into great and unexpected peril; but it
is a sacred object, and if it had carried me to death I hope it would
have sustained me.
“Not to death,” said the uncle; “it is not necessary to say, to death.”
“I doubt, sir,” returned the nephew, “whether, if it had carried me
to the utmost brink of death, you would have cared to stop me
there.” The deepened marks in the nose, and the lengthening of the
fine straight lines in the cruel face, looked ominous as to that; the
uncle made a graceful gesture of protest, which was so clearly a
slight form of good breeding that it was not reassuring.
“Indeed, sir,” pursued the nephew, “for anything I know, you may
have expressly worked to give a more suspicious appearance to the
suspicious circumstances that surrounded me.” “No, no, no,” said
the uncle, pleasantly.
“But, however that may be,” resumed the nephew, glancing at him
with deep distrust, “I know that your diplomacy would stop me by
any means, and would know no scruple as to means.” “My friend,
I told you so,” said the uncle, with a fine pulsation in the two
marks. “Do me the favour to recall that I told you so, long ago.” “I
recall it.” “Thank you,” said the Marquis-very sweetly indeed.
His tone lingered in the air, almost like the tone of a musical
“In effect, sir,” pursued the nephew, “I believe it to be at once your
bad fortune, and my good fortune, that has kept me out of a prison
in France here.” “I do not quite understand,” returned the uncle,
sipping his coffee. “Dare I ask you to explain?” “I believe that if
you were not in disgrace with the Court, and had not been
overshadowed by that cloud for years past, a letter de cachet
would have sent me to some fortress indefinitely.” “It is possible,”
said the uncle, with great calmness. “For the honour of the family, I
could even resolve to incommode you to that extent. Pray excuse
me!” “I perceive that, happily for me, the Reception of the day
before yesterday was, as usual, a cold one,” observed the nephew.
“I would not say happily, my friend,” returned the uncle, with
refined politeness; “I would not be sure of that. A good
opportunity for consideration, surrounded by the advantages of
solitude, might influence your destiny to far greater advantage
than you influence it for yourself. But it is useless to discuss the
question. I am, as you say, at a disadvantage. These little