After having thus disposed of Madame d'Urfe to disbelieve whatever the Corticelli cared to tell her, and to concentrate all her energies on the task of writing to Selenis, the intelligence of the moon, I set myself seriously to work to regain the money I had lost at play; and here my cabala was no good to me. I pledged the Corticelli's casket for a thousand louis, and proceeded to play in an English club where I had a much better chance of winning than with Germans or Frenchmen.
Three or four days after d'Ache's death, his widow wrote me a note begging me to call on her. I found her in company with de Pyene. She told me in a lugubrious voice that her husband had left many debts unsettled, and that his creditors had seized everything she possessed; and--that she was thus unable to pay the expenses of a journey, though she wanted to take her daughter with her to Colmar, and there to rejoin her family.
"You caused my husband's death," she added, "and I ask you to give me a thousand crowns; if you refuse me I shall commence a lawsuit against you, for as the Swiss officer has left, you are the only person I can prosecute."
"I am surprised at your taking such a tone towards me," I replied, coldly, "and were it not for the respect I feel for your misfortune, I should answer as bitterly as you deserve. In the first place I have not a thousand crowns to throw away, and if I had I would not sacrifice my money to threats. I am curious to know what kind of a case you could get up against me in the courts of law. As for Schmit, he fought like a brave gentleman, and I don't think you could get much out of him if he were still here. Good-day, madam."
I had scarcely got fifty paces from the house when I was joined by de Pyene, who said that rather than Madame d'Ache should have to complain of me he would cut my throat on the spot. We neither of us had swords.
"Your intention is not a very flattering one," said I, "and there is something rather brutal about it. I had rather not have any affair of the kind with a man whom I don't know and to whom I owe nothing."
"You are a coward."
"I would be, you mean, if I were to imitate you. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me what opinion you may have on the subject.
"You will be sorry for this."
"Maybe, but I warn you that I never go out unattended by a pair of pistols, which I keep in good order and know how to use." So saying I shewd him the pistols, and took one in my right hand.
At this the bully uttered an oath and we separated.
At a short distance from the place where this scene had occurred I met a Neapolitan named Maliterni, a lieutenant-colonel and aide to the Prince de Condo, commander-in-chief of the French army. This Maliterni was a boon companion, always ready to oblige, and always short of money. We were friends, and I told him what had happened.
"I should be sorry," said I, "to have anything to do with a fellow like de Pyene, and if you can rid me of him I promise you a hundred crowns."
"I daresay that can be managed," he replied, "and I will tell you what I can do to-morrow!"
In point of fact, he brought me news the next day that my cut- throat had received orders from his superior officer to leave Aix- la-Chapelle at day-break, and at the same time he gave me a passport from the Prince de Conde.
I confess that this was very pleasant tidings. I have never feared to cross my sword with any man, though never sought the barbarous pleasure of spilling men's blood; but on this occasion I felt an extreme dislike to a duel with a fellow who was probably of the same caste as his friend d'Ache.
I therefore gave Maliterni my heartiest thanks, as well as the hundred crowns I had promised him, which I considered so well employed that I did not regret their loss.
Maliterni, who was a jester of the first water, and a creature of the Marshal d'Estrees, was lacking neither in wit nor knowledge; but he was deficient in a sense of order and refinement. He was a pleasant companion, for his gaiety was inexhaustible and he had a large knowledge of the world.