On this morning I had chosen a new street to explore when，
M. Fortunat had left his card--that is to say, his address--and it would have been an easy matter to send a servant to his house. She was strongly tempted to do so; but she ultimately decided that it would be better to wait--that an hour more or less would make but little difference. She had sent her trusty servant, Job, for Baron Trigault; he would probably return with the baron at any moment; and the baron would advise her. He would know at once what was the best course for her to pursue. And so she waited for his coming in breathless anxiety; and the more she reflected, the more imminent her peril seemed, for she realized that M. Fortunat must be a very dangerous and cunning man. He had set a trap for her, and she had allowed herself to be caught. Perhaps he had only suspected the truth when he presented himself at the house. He had suddenly announced the death of the Count de Chalusse; she had betrayed herself; and any doubts he might have entertained were dispelled. "If I had only had sufficient presence of mind to deny it," she murmured. "If I had only been courageous enough to reply that I knew absolutely nothing about the person he spoke of. Ah! then he would have gone away convinced that he was mistaken."
But would the smooth-spoken visitor have declared that he knew everything, if he had not really penetrated the mystery of her life? It was scarcely probable. He had implored her to accept the property, if not for her own sake at least for the sake of another. And when she asked him whom he meant he had answered, "Mademoiselle Marguerite," but he was undoubtedly thinking of Wilkie. So this man, this Isidore Fortunat, knew that she had a son. Perhaps he was even acquainted with him personally. In his anger he would very likely hasten to Wilkie's rooms and tell him everything. This thought filled the wretched woman's heart with despair. What! Had she not yet expiated her fault? Must she suffer again?
For the first time a terrible doubt came over her. What she had formerly regarded as a most sublime effort of maternal love, was, perhaps, even a greater crime than the first she had committed. She had given her honor as the price of her son's happiness and prosperity. Had she a right to do so? Did not the money she had lavished upon him contain every germ of corruption, misfortune, and shame? How terrible Wilkie's grief and rage would be if he chanced to hear the truth!
Alas! he would certainly pay no heed to the extenuating circumstances; he would close his ears to all attempts at justification. He would be pitiless. He would have naught but hatred and scorn to bestow upon a mother who had fallen from the highest rank in society down to everlasting infamy. She fancied she heard him saying in an indignant voice, "It would have been better to have allowed me to die of starvation than to have given me bread purchased at such a price! Why have you dishonored me by your ill-gotten wealth? Fallen, you might have raised yourself by honest toil. You ought to have made me a laborer, and not a spoiled idler, incapable of earning an honest livelihood. As the son of a poor, betrayed, and deserted woman, with whom I could have shared my scanty earnings, I might have looked the world proudly in the face. But where can the son of Lia d'Argeles hide his disgrace after playing the gentleman for twenty years with Lia d'Argeles's money?" Yes, Wilkie would certainly say this if he ever learned the truth; and he would learn it--she felt sure of it. How could she hope to keep a secret which was known to Baron Trigault, M. Patterson, the Viscount de Coralth, and M. Fortunat-- four persons! She had confidence in the first two; she believed she had a hold on the third, but the fourth--Fortunat!
The hours went by; and still Job did not return. What was the meaning of this delay? Had he failed to find the baron? At last the sound of carriage-wheels in the courtyard made her start. "That's Job!" she said to herself. "He brings the baron."
Alas! no. Job returned alone. And yet the honest fellow had spared neither pains nor horseflesh. He had visited every place where there was the least probability of finding the baron, and he was everywhere told that Baron Trigault had not been seen for several days. "In that case, you ought to have gone to his house. Perhaps he is there," remarked Madame d'Argeles.
"Madame knows that the baron is never at home. I did go there, however, but in vain."
This chanced to be one of three consecutive days which Baron Trigault had spent with Kami-Bey, the Turkish ambassador. It had been agreed between them that they should play until one or the other had lost five hundred thousand francs; and, in order to prevent any waste of "precious time," as the baron was wont to remark, they neither of them stirred from the Grand Hotel, where Kami-Bey had a suite of rooms. They ate and slept there. By some strange chance, Madame d'Argeles had not heard of this duel with bank-notes, although nothing else was talked of at the clubs; indeed, the Figaro had already published a minute description of the apartment where the contest was going on; and every evening it gave the results. According to the latest accounts, the baron had the advantage; he had won about two hundred and eighty thousand francs.
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