"He's not dying," began the irrepressible Blanche de Tavanne, her eyes twinkling with mischief; but whatever naughty answer was on her tongue, our mademoiselle's deeper voice overbore her: "I am guiltless of the charge, madame. It was through no wish of mine that your son, with half the guard at his back, set on one wounded man." "I'll warrant it was not," muttered Mlle. Blanche.
"Come, mesdames, let us get back to our purchases. Ma foi! it's lucky these jeweller folk know no French." M. Étienne was himself again, all smiles and quick pleasantries. I slipped off to my post in the background, trying to get out of the eye of Mlle. de Tavanne, who had been staring at me the last five minutes in a way that made my goose-flesh rise, so suspicious, so probing, was it.
"Lorance," he was fiercely beginning, when Mlle. de Tavanne bounded in. "On guard!" she hissed at us. "They come!" She looked behind her into the corridor. Mademoiselle gave her lips to monsieur in one last kiss, and slipped like water from his arms. I was at his side, and we busied ourselves over the trinkets, he with shaking fingers, cheeks burning through the stain.
"She turns it off well," cried the little demoiselle in blue, Mlle. Blanche de Tavanne; "you would not guess that she will be awake the night long, weeping over M. de Mar's defection." "I!" exclaimed Mlle. de Montluc; "I weep over his recreancy? It is a far-fetched jest, my Blanche; can you invent no better? The Comte de Mar behold him!"
Mademoiselle faced her blankly, scarce understanding, midst the whirl of her own thoughts, of what she was accused. The little Tavanne came gallantly to the rescue: "I did not follow you either, madame. We thought it scarcely safe; Lorance could not bear to leave this fellow alone."
An you love me, go!" For answer he fell on his knees before her, covering those sweet hands with kisses. The door was flung open; Mlle. de Tavanne stood on the threshold. They started apart, monsieur leaping to his feet, mademoiselle springing back with choking cry. But it was too late; she had seen us. She was rosy with running, her little face brimming over with mischief.
Here, you in the petticoats, that were a boy the other night, go to the farther door. Mme. de Nemours takes her nap in the second room beyond. You watch that door; I'll watch the corridor. Farewell, my children! Peste! think you Blanche de Tavanne is so badly off for lovers that she need grudge you yours, Lorance?"
"I want you to stop moping over there in the corner. Come look at these baubles and see if they cannot bring a sparkle to your eye. Fie, Lorance! The having too many lovers is nothing to cry about. It is an affliction many and many a lady would give her ears to undergo." "Take heart o' grace, Lorance!" cried Mlle. de Tavanne.
I started presently to discover the little Mlle. de Tavanne: that night she had worn sky-colour and now she wore rose, but there was no mistaking her saucy face. We set our box on a table, as the duchess bade us, and I helped M. Étienne to lay out its contents, which done, I retired to the background, well content to leave the brunt of the business to him.
The sergeant to-day saw no reason why he might not wear his epaulettes to-morrow, and in time exchange his shako even for a crown; and so the vivandière, whose life was passed in the intoxicating atmosphere of glory, might well dream of greatness which should be hers hereafter, and of the time when, as the wife of a marshal or a peer of France, she would walk the salons of the Tuileries as proudly as the daughter of a Rohan or a Tavanne.