De Mussidan, when he read the name on the card, turned ghastly pale.
“Show him into the library,” said he curtly.
Florestan left the room, and the Count mutely handed the card to his wife, but she had no need to read it.
“I can tell what it is,” gasped she.
“The day for settling accounts has come,” said the Count, “and this name is the fatal sign.”
The Countess flung herself upon her knees, and taking the hand that hung placidly by his side, pressed her lips tenderly to it.
“Forgive me, Octave!” she muttered. “Will you not forgive me? I am a miserable wretch, and why did not Heaven punish me for the sins that I have committed, and not make others expiate my offences?”
The Count put her gently aside. He suffered intensely, and yet no word of reproach escaped his lips against the woman who had ruined his whole life.
“And Sabine,” she went on, “must she, a De Mussidan, marry one of these wretched scoundrels?”
Sabine was the only one in the room who preserved her calmness; she had so schooled herself that her distress of mind was not apparent to the outward eye.
“Do not make yourselves miserable,” said she, with a faint smile; “how do we know that M. de Croisenois may not make me an excellent husband after all?”
The Count gazed upon his daughter with a look of the fondest affection and gratitude.
“Dearest Sabine!” murmured he. Her fortitude had restored his self-command. “Let us be outwardly resigned,” said he, “whatever our feelings may be. Time may do much for us, and at the very church door we may find means of escape.”
A CRUEL SLUR.
Florestan had conducted Tantaine to the sumptuous library, in which the Count had received Mascarin’s visit; and, to pass away the time, the old man took a mental inventory of the contents of the room. He tried the texture of the curtains, looked at the handsome bindings of the books, and admired the magnificent bronzes on the mantelpiece.
“Aha,” muttered he, as he tried the springs of a luxurious armchair, “everything is of the best, and when matters are settled, I half think that I should like a resting-place just like this——”
He checked himself, for the door opened, and the Count made his appearance, calm and dignified, but very pale. Tantaine made a low bow, pressing his greasy hat against his breast.
“Your humble servant to command,” said he.
The Count had come to a sudden halt.
“Excuse me,” said he, “but did you send up a card asking for an interview?”
“I am not Mascarin certainly, but I used that highly respectable gentleman’s name, because I knew that my own was totally unknown to you. I am Tantaine, Adrien Tantaine.”
M. de Mussidan gazed with extreme surprise upon the squalid individual before him. His mild and benevolent face inspired confidence, and yet he doubted him.