Having gone to sleep beneath the draperies of wealth and luxury, these distinguished men awoke to find themselves within bare walls, full of nail-holes, degraded into abject poverty.
“Why, Florine!—The poor girl has been seized for debt!” cried Bixiou, who was one of the guests. “Quick! a subscription for her!”
On this they all roused up. Every pocket was emptied and produced a total of thirty-seven francs, which Raoul carried in jest to Florine’s bedside. She burst out laughing and lifted her pillow, beneath which lay a mass of bank-notes to which she pointed.
Raoul called to Blondet.
“Ah! I see!” cried Blondet. “The little cheat has sold herself out without a word to us. Well done, you little angel!”
Thereupon, the actress was borne in triumph into the dining-room where most of the party still remained. The lawyer and du Tillet had departed.
That evening Florine had an ovation at the theatre; the story of her sacrifice had circulated among the audience.
“I’d rather be applauded for my talent,” said her rival in the green-room.
“A natural desire in an actress who has never been applauded at all,” remarked Florine.
During the evening Florine’s maid installed her in Raoul’s apartment in the Passage Sandrie. Raoul himself was to encamp in the house where the office of the new journal was established.
Such was the rival of the innocent Madame de Vandenesse. Raoul was the connecting link between the actress and the countess,—a knot severed by a duchess in the days of Louis XV. by the poisoning of Adrienne Lecouvreur; a not inconceivable vengeance, considering the offence.
Florine, however, was not in the way of Raoul’s dawning passion. She foresaw the lack of money in the difficult enterprise he had undertaken, and she asked for leave of absence from the theatre. Raoul conducted the negotiation in a way to make himself more than ever valuable to her. With the good sense of the peasant in La Fontaine’s fable, who makes sure of a dinner while the patricians talk, the actress went into the provinces to cut faggots for her celebrated man while he was employed in hunting power.
On the morrow of the ball given by Lady Dudley, Marie, without having received the slightest declaration, believed that she was loved by Raoul according to the programme of her dreams, and Raoul was aware that the countess had chosen him for her lover. Though neither had reached the incline of such emotions where preliminaries are abridged, both were on the road to it. Raoul, wearied with the dissipations of life, longed for an ideal world, while Marie, from whom the thought of wrong-doing was far, indeed, never imagined the possibility of going out of such a world. No love was ever more innocent or purer than theirs; but none was ever more enthusiastic or more entrancing in thought.