This reproach was the most cruel that could be addressed to Mlle. Gilberte. The blood rushed to her face, and, in a firm voice,
“Well, yes,” said she: “I have a secret.”
“And, if I did not confide it to you, it is because it is also the secret of another. Yes, I confess it, I have been imprudent in the extreme; I have stepped beyond all the limits of propriety and social custom; I have exposed myself to the worst calumnies. But never,—I swear it,—never have I done any thing of which my conscience can reproach me, nothing that I have to blush for, nothing that I regret, nothing that I am not ready to do again to-morrow.”
“I said nothing, ’tis true; but it was my duty. Alone I had to suffer the responsibility of my acts. Having alone freely engaged my future, I wished to bear alone the weight of my anxiety. I should never have forgiven myself for having added this new care to all your other sorrows.”
Mme. Favoral stood dismayed. Big tears rolled down her withered cheeks.
“Don’t you see, then,” she stammered, “that all my past suffering is as nothing compared to what I endure to-day? Good heavens! what have I ever done to deserve so many trials? Am I to be spared none of the troubles of this world? And it is through my own daughter that I am the most cruelly stricken!”
This was more than Mlle. Gilberte could bear. Her heart was breaking at the sight of her mother’s tears, that angel of meekness and resignation. Throwing her arms around her neck, and kissing her on the eyes,
“Mother,” she murmured, “adored mother, I beg of you do not weep thus! Speak to me! What do you wish me to do?”
Gently the poor woman drew back.
“Tell me the truth,” she answered.
Was it not certain that this was the very thing she would ask; in fact, the only thing she could ask? Ah! how much would the young girl have preferred one of her father’s violent scenes, and brutalities which would have exalted her energy, instead of crushing it!
Attempting to gain time,
“Well, yes,” she answered, “I’ll tell you every thing, mother, but not now, to-morrow, later.”
She was about to yield, however, when her father’s arrival cut short their conversation.
The cashier of the Mutual Credit was quite lively that night. He was humming a tune, a thing which did not happen to him four times a year, and which was indicative of the most extreme satisfaction. But he stopped short at the sight of the disturbed countenance of his wife and daughter.
“What is the matter?” he inquired.
“Nothing,” hastily answered Mlle. Gilberte,—“nothing at all, father.”
“Then you are crying for your amusement,” he said. “Come, be candid for once, and confess that Maxence has been at his tricks again!”
“You are mistaken, father: I swear it!”