“He is your father, Andre! Gervais, he is your son — our son! The letter there... on the table... O my God!” And she slipped nervelessly to the ground, and crouched there sobbing at the feet of M. de La Tour d’Azyr.
Across the body of that convulsively sobbing woman, the mother of one and the mistress of the other, the eyes of those mortal enemies met, invested with a startled, appalled interest that admitted of no words.
Beyond the table, as if turned to stone by this culminating horror of revelation, stood Aline.
M. de La Tour d’Azyr was the first to stir. Into his bewildered mind came the memory of something that Mme. de Plougastel had said of a letter that was on the table. He came forward, unhindered. The announcement made, Mme. de Plougastel no longer feared the sequel, and so she let him go. He walked unsteadily past this new-found son of his, and took up the sheet that lay beside the candlebranch. A long moment he stood reading it, none heeding him. Aline’s eyes were all on Andre-Louis, full of wonder and commiseration, whilst Andre-Louis was staring down, in stupefied fascination, at his mother.
M. de La Tour d’Azyr read the letter slowly through. Then very quietly he replaced it. His next concern, being the product of an artificial age sternly schooled in the suppression of emotion, was to compose himself. Then he stepped back to Mme. de Plougastel’s side and stooped to raise her.
“Therese,” he said.
Obeying, by instinct, the implied command, she made an effort to rise and to control herself in her turn. The Marquis half conducted, half carried her to the armchair by the table.
Andre-Louis looked on. Still numbed and bewildered, he made no attempt to assist. He saw as in a dream the Marquis bending over Mme. de Plougastel. As in a dream he heard him ask:
“How long have you known this, Therese?”
“I... I have always known it... always. I confided him to Kercadiou. I saw him once as a child... Oh, but what of that?”
“Why was I never told? Why did you deceive me? Why did you tell me that this child had died a few days after birth? Why, Therese? Why?”
“I was afraid. I... I thought it better so — that nobody, nobody, not even you, should know. And nobody has known save Quintin until last night, when to induce him to come here and save me he was forced to tell him.”
“But I, Therese?” the Marquis insisted. “It was my right to know.”
“Your right? What could you have done? Acknowledge him? And then? Ha!” It was a queer, desperate note of laughter. “There was Plougastel; there was my family. And there was you... you, yourself, who had ceased to care, in whom the fear of discovery had stifled love. Why should I have told you, then? Why? I should not have told you now had there been any other way to... to save you both. Once before I suffered just such dreadful apprehensions when you and he fought in the Bois. I was on my way to prevent it when you met me. I would have divulged the truth, as a last resource, to avert that horror. But mercifully God spared me the necessity then.”