years, backed by unguessable ages of fierce and brutal，
"No, indeed. Not at all! What an idea!"
Poor woman, her face brightened. She so longed to believe him! And her son was beside her, so near that she felt his breath upon her cheek. It was he indeed. Had they ever been separated? She almost doubted it, she had lived so near him in thought. It was with a sort of ecstasy that she looked at him. There was a world of entreaty in her eyes; they seemed to be begging a caress; she raised her quivering lips to his, but he did not observe it. For a long time she hesitated, fearing he might spurn her; but at last, yielding to a supreme impulse, she threw her arms around his neck, drew him toward her, and pressed him to her heart in a close embrace. "My son! my son!" she repeated; "to have you with me again, after all these years!"
Unfortunately, no whirlwind of passion was capable of carrying M. Wilkie beyond himself. His emotion was now spent and his mind had regained its usual indifference. He flattered himself that he was a man of mettle--and he remained as cold as ice beneath his mother's kisses. Indeed, he barely tolerated them; and if he did allow her to embrace him, it was only because he did not know how to refuse. "Will she never have done?" he thought. "This is a pretty state of things! I must be very attractive. How Costard and Serpillon would laugh if they saw me now." Costard and Serpillon were his intimate friends, the co-proprietors of the famous steeplechaser.
In her rapture, however, Madame d'Argeles did not observe the peculiar expression on her son's face. She had compelled him to take a chair opposite her, and, with nervous volubility, she continued: "If I don't deny myself the happiness of embracing you again, it is because I have not broken the vow I took never to make myself known to you. When I entered this room, I was firmly resolved to convince you, no matter how, that you had been deceived. God knows that it was not my fault if I did not succeed. There are some sacrifices that are above human strength."
M. Wilkie deigned to smile. "Oh! yes, I saw your little game," he said, with a knowing air. "But I had been well posted, and besides, it is not very easy to fool me."
Madame d'Argeles did not even hear him. "Perhaps destiny is weary of afflicting us," she continued; "perhaps a new life is about to begin. Through you, Wilkie. I can again be happy. I, who for years have lived without even hope. But will you have courage to forget?"
She hung her head, and in an almost inaudible voice replied, "The past, Wilkie."
But with an air of the greatest indifference, he snapped his fingers, and exclaimed: "Nonsense! What is past is past. Such things are soon forgotten. Paris has known many such cases. You are my mother; I care very little for public opinion. I begin by pleasing myself, and I consult other people afterward; and when they are dissatisfied, I tell them to mind their own business."
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