Madame de Montcornet had her taught to sew and to make dresses, arranged that she should take her meals alone, and was rewarded for the care she bestowed on Olympe Charel by one of those unconditional attachments which are so precious to Parisians.
At the back of a low, damp room, on a wretched straw mattress, flung on the floor itself, lay a man fully dressed. "Gaffer Charel!" cried the mayor. "Is he dead, too?" The old man's hands were cold, his face terribly pale, but his heart was still beating, with a faint, slow throb, and he seemed not to be wounded in any way.
"Listen, I think I can give you a valuable clue: on Saturday morning, Gaffer Charel, an old knife-grinder who visits all the fairs in the department, met me at the end of the village and asked, 'Monsieur le maire, does a letter without a stamp on it go all the same? 'Of course, said I. 'And does it get there? 'Certainly. Only there's double postage to pay on it, that's all the difference."
He watched the old fellow move away and, when he had lost sight of him, turned down a path that took him right across the fields. Beautrelet hesitated for a few seconds as to what course to take, and then quietly decided. He set off in pursuit of the man. "He has made sure," he thought, "that Gaffer Charel has gone straight ahead. That is all he wanted to know and so he is going where?
Olympe Charel, a pretty Norman girl, rather stout, with fair hair of a golden tint, an animated face lighted by intelligent eyes, and distinguished by a finely curved thoroughbred nose, with a maidenly air in spite of a certain swaying Spanish manner of carrying herself, possessed all the points that a young girl born just above the level of the masses is likely to acquire from whatever close companionship a mistress is willing to allow her.
But what an amount of foresight and real intelligence it displayed to suppress any possible accusation on the part of that chance wayfarer! Nobody now knew that within the walls of a park there lay a prisoner asking for help. Nobody? Yes, Beautrelet. Gaffer Charel was unable to speak. Very well.
He lunched at an inn at Fresselines and was on the point of leaving when he saw Gaffer Charel arrive and cross the square, wheeling his little knife-grinding barrow before him. He at once followed him at a good distance. The old man made two interminable waits, during which he ground dozens of knives.
A man was walking along between them, stopping at the same time as Charel and starting off again when he did, without, for that matter, taking any great precautions against being seen. "He is being watched," thought Beautrelet. "Perhaps they want to know if he stops in front of the walls " His heart beat violently. The event was at hand.
The three of them, one behind the other, climbed up and down the steep slopes of the country and arrived at Crozant, famed for the colossal ruins of its castle. There Charel made a halt of an hour's duration. Next he went down to the riverside and crossed the bridge. But then a thing happened that took Beautrelet by surprise. The other man did not cross the river.