“It is I.”
And with a feverish voice, hurrying as if to assure herself, she tells him that she is setting out on a long journey, and that before going—
“A journey! And where are you going?”
“Oh, I do not know. We are going over there, a long way, on business in his own part of the world.”
“What! You will not be here for my play? It is in three days. And then, immediately after, my marriage. Come now, he cannot hinder you from coming to my marriage?”
She makes excuses, imagines reasons, but her hands burning between her son’s, and her altered voice, tell Andre that she is not speaking the truth. He is going to strike a light; she prevents him.
“No, no; it is useless. We are better without it. Besides, I have so much to get ready still. I must go away.”
They are both standing up, ready for the separation, but Andre will not let her go without telling him what is the matter, what tragic care is hollowing that fair face where the eyes—was it an effect of the dusk?—shone with a strange light.
“Nothing; no, nothing, I assure you. Only the idea of not being able to take part in your happiness, your triumph. At any rate, you know I love you; you don’t mistrust your mother, do you? I have never been a day without thinking of you: do the same—keep me in your heart. And now kiss me and let me go quickly. I have waited too long.”
Another minute and she would have the strength for what she had to do. She darts forward.
“No, you shall not go. I feel that something extraordinary is happening in your life which you do not want to tell. You are in some great trouble, I am sure. This man has done some infamous thing.”
“No, no. Let me go! Let me go!”
But he held her fast.
“Tell me, what is it? Tell me.”
Then, whispering in her ear, with a voice tender and low as a kiss:
“He has left you, hasn’t he?”
The wretched woman shivers, hesitates.
“Ask me nothing. I will say nothing. Adieu!”
He pressed her to his heart:
“What could you tell me that I do not know already, poor mother? You did not guess, then, why I left six months ago?”
“I know everything. And what has happened to you to-day I have foreseen for long, and hoped for.”
“Oh, wretch, wretch that I am, why did I come?”
“Because it is your home, because you owe me ten years of my mother. You see now that I must keep you.”
He said all this on his knees, before the sofa on which she had let herself fall, in a flood of tears, and the last painful sobs of her wounded pride. She wept thus for long, her child at her feet. And now the Joyeuse family, anxious because Andre did not come down, hurried up in a troop to look for him. It was an invasion of innocent faces, transparent gaiety, floating curls, modest dress, and over all the group shone the big lamp, the good old lamp with the vast shade which M. Joyeuse solemnly carried, as high, as straight as he could, with the gesture of a caryatid. Suddenly they stopped before this pale and sad lady, who looked, touched to the depths, at all this smiling grace, above all at Elise, a little behind the others, whose conscious air in this indiscreet visit points her out as the fiancee.