Bertha, colder than marble, motionless, her eyes full of tears, seemed so full of grief on hearing this cruel decision, that all the doctors were touched.
“Is there no hope then? Oh, my God!” cried she, in agonizing tones.
Dr. R—– hardly dared to attempt to comfort her; he answered her questions evasively.
“We must never despair,” said he, “when the invalid is of Sauvresy’s age and constitution; nature often works miracles when least expected.”
The doctor, however, lost no time in taking Hector apart and begging him to prepare the poor, devoted, loving young lady for the terrible blow about to ensue.
“For you see,” added he, “I don’t think Monsieur Sauvresy can live more than two days!”
Bertha, with her ear at the keyhole, had heard the doctor’s prediction; and when Hector returned from conducting the physician to the door, he found her radiant. She rushed into his arms.
“Now” cried she, “the future truly belongs to us. Only one black point obscured our horizon, and it has cleared away. It is for me to realize Doctor R—–’s prediction.” They dined together, as usual, in the dining-room, while one of the chambermaids remained beside the sick-bed. Bertha was full of spirits which she could scarcely control. The certainty of success and safety, the assurance of reaching the end, made her imprudently gay. She spoke aloud, even in the presence of the servants, of her approaching liberty. During the evening she was more reckless than ever. If any of the servants should have a suspicion, or a shadow of one she might be discovered and lost. Hector constantly nudged her under the table and frowned at her, to keep her quiet; he felt his blood run cold at her conduct; all in vain. There are times when the armor of hypocrisy becomes so burdensome that one is forced, cost what it may, to throw it off if only for an instant.
While Hector was smoking his cigar, Bertha was more freely pursuing her dream. She was thinking that she could spend the period of her mourning at Valfeuillu, and Hector, for the sake of appearances, would hire a pretty little house somewhere in the suburbs. The worst of it all was that she would be forced to seem to mourn for Sauvresy, as she had pretended to love him during his lifetime. But at last a day would come when, without scandal, she might throw off her mourning clothes, and then they would get married. Where? At Paris or Orcival?
Hector’s thoughts ran in the same channel. He, too, wished to see his friend under the ground to end his own terrors, and to submit to Bertha’s terrible yoke.