“What does all this mean?” he said.
“It means that I am no longer a little girl whom you can frighten,” she replied. “I am, and shall be, all my life, a good and loyal wife to you; you may be my master if you choose, my tyrant, never!”
Du Tillet left the room. After this effort Marie-Eugenie broke down.
“If it were not for my sister’s danger,” she said to herself, “I should never have dared to brave him thus; but, as the proverb says, ‘There’s some good in every evil.’”
The husband’s triumph
During the preceding night Madame du Tillet had gone over in her mind her sister’s revelations. Sure, now, of Nathan’s safety, she was no longer influenced by the thought of an imminent danger in that direction. But she remembered the vehement energy with which the countess had declared that she would fly with Nathan if that would save him. She saw that the man might determine her sister in some paroxysm of gratitude and love to take a step which was nothing short of madness. There were recent examples in the highest society of just such flights which paid for doubtful pleasures by lasting remorse and the disrepute of a false position. Du Tillet’s speech brought her fears to a point; she dreaded lest all should be discovered; she knew her sister’s signature was in Nucingen’s hands, and she resolved to entreat Marie to save herself by confessing all to Felix.
She drove to her sister’s house, but Marie was not at home. Felix was there. A voice within her cried aloud to Eugenie to save her sister; the morrow might be too late. She took a vast responsibility upon herself, but she resolved to tell all to the count. Surely he would be indulgent when he knew that his honor was still safe. The countess was deluded rather than sinful. Eugenie feared to be treacherous and base in revealing secrets that society (agreeing on this point) holds to be inviolable; but—she saw her sister’s future, she trembled lest she should some day be deserted, ruined by Nathan, poor, suffering, disgraced, wretched, and she hesitated no longer; she sent in her name and asked to see the count.
Felix, astonished at the visit, had a long conversation with his sister-in-law, in which he seemed so calm, so completely master of himself, that she feared he might have taken some terrible resolution.
“Do not be uneasy,” he said, seeing her anxiety. “I will act in a manner which shall make your sister bless you. However much you may dislike to keep the fact that you have spoken to me from her knowledge, I must entreat you to do so. I need a few days to search into mysteries which you don’t perceive; and, above all, I must act cautiously. Perhaps I can learn all in a day. I, alone, my dear sister, am the guilty person. All lovers play their game, and it is not every woman who is able, unassisted, to see life as it is.”