“I can arrange all that.”
But, nevertheless, she returned home with a heart oppressed with the same anxieties and ideas that had darkened Nathan’s brow the night before.
“Well, what was the matter with your sister?” said Felix, when his wife returned. “You look distressed.”
“It is a dreadful history about which I am bound to secrecy,” she said, summoning all her nerve to appear calm before him.
In order to be alone and to think at her ease, she went to the Opera in the evening, after which she resolved to go (as we have seen) and discharge her heart into that of her sister, Madame du Tillet; relating to her the horrible scene of the morning, and begging her advice and assistance. Neither the one nor the other could then know that du Tillet himself had lighted the charcoal of the vulgar brazier, the sight of which had so justly terrified the countess.
“He has but me in all the world,” said Marie to her sister, “and I will not fail him.”
That speech contains the secret motive of most women; they can be heroic when they are certain of being all in all to a grand and irreproachable being.
A lover saved and lost
Du Tillet had heard some talk even in financial circles of the more or less possible adoration of his sister-in-law for Nathan; but he was one of those who denied it, thinking it incompatible with Raoul’s known relations with Florine. The actress would certainly drive off the countess, or vice versa. But when, on coming home that evening, he found his sister-in-law with a perturbed face, in consultation with his wife about money, it occurred to him that Raoul had, in all probability, confided to her his situation. The countess must therefore love him; she had doubtless come to obtain from her sister the sum due to old Gigonnet. Madame du Tillet, unaware, of course, of the reasons for her husband’s apparently supernatural penetration, had shown such stupefaction when he told her the sum wanted, that du Tillet’s suspicions became certainties. He was sure now that he held the thread of all Nathan’s possible manoeuvres.
No one knew that the unhappy man himself was in bed in a small hotel in the rue du Mail, under the name of the office watchman, to whom Marie had promised five hundred francs if he kept silence as to the events of the preceding night and morning. Thus bribed, the man, whose name was Francois Quillet, went back to the office and left word with the portress that Monsieur Nathan had been taken ill in consequence of overwork, and was resting. Du Tillet was therefore not surprised at Raoul’s absence. It was natural for the journalist to hide under any such pretence to avoid arrest. When the sheriff’s spies made inquiries they learned that a lady had carried him away in a public coach early in the morning; but it took three days to ferret out the number of the coach, question the driver, and find the hotel where the debtor was recovering his strength. Thus Marie’s prompt action had really gained for Nathan a truce of four days.