We discussed the third step, which would put an apex to the scheme and cover the impudent woman with shame. As I had written the two letters according to my housekeeper's instructions, I determined to follow her advice to the end. She told me what to say to Le Duc in the morning; and she was curious to know what sort of stuff he was made of, she begged me to let her listen behind the curtains of my bed.
Next morning Le Due came in, and I asked if he could ride on horseback to Soleure.
"Yes, sir," he replied, "but the doctor tells me I must begin to bathe to-morrow."
"Very good. As soon as your horse is ready, set out and go to Madame F----, but do not let her know you come from me, or suspect that you are a mere emissary of mine. Say that you want to speak to her. If she refuses to receive you, wait outside in the street; but I fancy she will receive you, and without a witness either. Then say to her, 'You have given me my complaint without having been asked, and I require you to give me sufficient money to get myself cured.' Add that she made you work for two hours in the dark, and that if it had not been for the fatal present she had given to you, you would have said nothing about it; but that finding yourself in such a state (you needn't be ashamed to shew her) she ought not to be astonished at your taking such a course. If she resists, threaten her with the law. That's all you have to do, but don't let my name appear. Return directly without loss of time, that I may know how you have got on."
"That's all very fine, sir, but if this jolly wench has me pitched out of window, I shan't come home quite so speedily."
"Quite so, but you needn't be afraid; I will answer for your safety."
"It's a queer business you are sending me on."
"You are the only man I would trust to do it properly."
"I will do it all right, but I want to ask you one or two essential questions. Has the lady really got the what d'you call it?"
"I am sorry for her. But how am I to stick to it that she has peppered me, when I have never spoken to her?"
"Do you usually catch that complaint by speaking, booby?"
"No, but one speaks in order to catch it, or while one is catching it."
"You spent two hours in the dark with her without a word being spoken, and she will see that she gave this fine present to you while she thought she was giving it to another."
"Ah! I begin to see my way, sir. But if we were in the dark, how was I to know it was she I had to do with?
"Thus: you saw her going in by the garden door, and you marked her unobserved. But you may be sure she won't ask you any of these questions."
"I know what to do now. I will start at once, and I am as curious as you to know what her answer will be. But here's another question comes into my head. She may try to strike a bargain over the sum I am to ask for my cure; if so, shall I be content with three hundred francs?"
"That's too much for her, take half."
"But it isn't much for two hours of such pleasure for her and six weeks of such pain for me."
"I will make up the rest to you."
"That's good hearing. She is going to pay for damage she has done. I fancy I see it all, but I shall say nothing. I would bet it is you to whom she has made this fine present, and that you want to pay her out."
"Perhaps so; but keep your own counsel and set out."
"Do you know I think the rascal is unique," said my dear Dubois, emerging from her hiding-place, "I had hard work to keep from laughing when he said that if he were pitched out of the window he would not come back so soon. I am sure he will acquit himself better than ever did diplomatist. When he gets to Soleure the monster will have already dispatched her reply to your second letter. I am curious to see how it will turn out."
"To you, my dear, the honour of this comedy belongs. You have conducted this intrigue like a past master in the craft. It could never be taken for the work of a novice."
"Nevertheless, it is my first and I hope it will be my last intrigue"
"I hope she won't defy me to 'give evidence of my health."
"You are quite well so far, I think?"
"Yes; and, by the way, it is possible she may only have leucorrhoea. I am longing to see the end of the piece, and to set my mind at rest."
"Will you give Madame an account of our scheme?"
"Yes; but I shall not be able to give you the credit you deserve."
"I only want to have credit in your eyes."
"You cannot doubt that I honour you immensely, and I shall certainly not deprive you of the reward that is your due."
"The only reward I ask for is for you to be perfectly open with me."
"You are very wonderful.