There was a long silence. With one accord, father and son avoided letting their eyes meet, lest they might encounter glances too eloquent to bear at so painful a moment.
“You were right, sir,” continued the count, “our honour is involved. It is important that we should decide on our future conduct without delay. Will you follow me to my room?”
He rang the bell, and a footman appeared almost immediately.
“Neither the viscount nor I am at home to any one,” said M. de Commarin, “no matter whom.”
The revelation which had just taken place, irritated much more than it surprised the Count de Commarin. For twenty years, he had been constantly expecting to see the truth brought to light. He knew that there can be no secret so carefully guarded that it may not by some chance escape; and his had been known to four people, three of whom were still living.
He had not forgotten that he had been imprudent enough to trust it to paper, knowing all the while that it ought never to have been written. How was it that he, a prudent diplomat, a statesman, full of precaution, had been so foolish? How was it that he had allowed this fatal correspondence to remain in existence! Why had he not destroyed, at no matter what cost, these overwhelming proofs, which sooner or later might be used against him? Such imprudence could only have arisen from an absurd passion, blind and insensible, even to madness.
So long as he was Valerie’s lover, the count never thought of asking the return of his letters from his beloved accomplice. If the idea had occurred to him, he would have repelled it as an insult to the character of his angel. What reason could he have had to suspect her discretion? None. He would have been much more likely to have supposed her desirous of removing every trace, even the slightest, of what had taken place. Was it not her son who had received the benefits of the deed, who had usurped another’s name and fortune?
When eight years after, believing her to be unfaithful, the count had put an end to the connection which had given him so much happiness he thought of obtaining possession of this unhappy correspondence. But he knew not how to do so. A thousand reasons prevented his moving in the matter.
The principal one was, that he did not wish to see this woman, once so dearly loved. He did not feel sufficiently sure either of his anger or of his firmness. Could he, without yielding, resist the tearful pleading of those eyes, which had so long held complete sway over him?
To look again upon this mistress of his youth would, he feared, result in his forgiving her; and he had been too cruelly wounded in his pride and in his affection to admit the idea of a reconciliation.
On the other hand, to obtain the letters though a third party was entirely out of the question. He abstained, then, from all action, postponing it indefinitely. “I will go to her,” said he to himself; “but not until I have so torn her from my heart that she will have become indifferent to me. I will not gratify her with the sight of my grief.”