They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the thought of all that he had just heard and seen, knew not whether to believe it or not; he was like a drunken man, and utterly unable to think connectedly. He came to himself in Aquilina's room, whither he had been supported by the united efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had fainted as he stepped from the carriage.
"HE will be here directly! Oh, my friends, my friends," he cried, and he flung himself despairingly into the depths of a low chair beside the fire.
Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the Englishman. She announced that "a gentleman had come who had made an appointment with the master," when Melmoth suddenly appeared, and deep silence followed. He looked at the porter—the porter went; he looked at Jenny—and Jenny went likewise.
"Madame," said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, "with your permission, we will conclude a piece of urgent business."
He took Castanier's hand, and Castanier rose, and the two men went into the drawing-room. There was no light in the room, but Melmoth's eyes lit up the thickest darkness. The gaze of those strange eyes had left Aquilina like one spellbound; she was helpless, unable to take any thought for her lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in Jenny's room, whereas their early return had taken the waiting-woman by surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing-room. It had all happened exactly as in the drama that Melmoth had displayed for his victim. Presently the house-door was slammed violently, and Castanier reappeared.
"What ails you?" cried the horror-struck Aquilina.
There was a change in the cashier's appearance. A strange pallor overspread his once rubicund countenance; it wore the peculiarly sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. The sullen glare of his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in them seemed to scorch. The man who had looked so good-humored and good-natured had suddenly grown tyrannical and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had grown thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if a dragon breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed upon the others like a close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment Aquilina knew not what to do.
"What has passed between you and that diabolical-looking man in those few minutes?" she asked at length.
"I have sold my soul to him. I feel it; I am no longer the same. He has taken my SELF, and given me his soul in exchange."
"You would not understand it at all.... Ah! he was right," Castanier went on, "the fiend was right! I see everything and know all things.—You have been deceiving me!"
Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a candle and went into the dressing-room. The unhappy girl followed him with dazed bewilderment, and great was her astonishment when Castanier drew the dresses that hung there aside and disclosed the sergeant.
"Come out, my boy," said the cashier; and, taking Leon by a button of his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room.
The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself into her easy-chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by the fire, and left Aquilina's lover in a standing position.
"You have been in the army," said Leon; "I am ready to give you satisfaction."
"You are a fool," said Castanier drily. "I have no occasion to fight. I could kill you by a look if I had any mind to do it. I will tell you what it is, youngster; why should I kill you? I can see a red line round your neck—the guillotine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end in the Place de Greve. You are the headsman's property! there is no escape for you. You belong to a vendita, of the Carbonari. You are plotting against the Government."
"You did not tell me that," cried the Piedmontese, turning to Leon.
"So you do not know that the Minister decided this morning to put down your Society?" the cashier continued. "The Procureur-General has a list of your names. You have been betrayed. They are busy drawing up the indictment at this moment."
"Then was it you who betrayed him?" cried Aquilina, and with a hoarse sound in her throat like the growl of a tigress she rose to her feet; she seemed as if she would tear Castanier in pieces.
"You know me too well to believe it," Castanier retorted. Aquilina was benumbed by his coolness.
"Then how do you know it?" she murmured.
"I did not know it until I went into the drawing-room; now I know it— now I see and know all things, and can do all things."
The sergeant was overcome with amazement.
"Very well then, save him, save him, dear!" cried the girl, flinging herself at Castanier's feet. "If nothing is impossible to you, save him! I will love you, I will adore you, I will be your slave and not your mistress. I will obey your wildest whims; you shall do as you will with me. Yes, yes, I will give you more than love; you shall have a daughter's devotion as well as... Rodolphe! why will you not understand! After all, however violent my passions may be, I shall be yours for ever! What should I say to persuade you? I will invent pleasures... I... Great heavens! one moment! whatever you shall ask of me—to fling myself from the window for instance—you will need to say but one word, 'Leon!' and I will plunge down into hell. I would bear any torture, any pain of body or soul, anything you might inflict upon me!"