While she was thus summoning her courage, and he was entreating her confidence, Mme. de la Verberie came hurrying into the room for them to sign the contract.
The opportunity was lost; Andre Fauvel was left in ignorance.
The next day, a lovely spring morning, Andre Fauvel and Valentine de la Verberie were married at the village church.
Early in the morning, the chateau was filled with the bride’s friends, who came, according to custom, to assist at her wedding toilet.
Valentine forced herself to appear calm, even smiling; but her face was whiter than her veil; her heart was torn by remorse. She felt as though the sad truth were written upon her brow; and this pure white dress was a bitter irony, a galling humiliation.
She shuddered when her most intimate school-mate placed the wreath of orange-blossoms upon her head. These emblems of purity seemed to burn her like a band of red-hot iron. One of the wire stems of the flowers scratched her forehead, and a drop of blood fell upon her snowy robe.
What an evil omen! Valentine was near fainting when she thought of the past and the future connected by this bloody sign of woe.
But presages are deceitful, as it proved with Valentine; for she became a happy woman and a loving wife.
Yes, at the end of her first year of married life, she confessed to herself that her happiness would be complete if she could only forget the terrible past.
Andre adored her. He had been wonderfully successful in his business affairs; he wished to be immensely rich, not for himself, but for the sake of his beloved wife, whom he would surround with every luxury. He thought her the most beautiful woman in Paris, and determined that she should be the most superbly dressed.
Eighteen months after her marriage, Madame Fauvel presented her husband with a son. But neither this child, nor a second son born a year later, could make her forget the first one of all, the poor, forsaken babe who had been thrown upon strangers, mercenaries, who valued the money, but not the child for whom it was paid.
She would look at her two sons, surrounded by every luxury which money could give, and murmur to herself:
“Who knows if the abandoned one has bread to eat?”
If she only knew where he was: if she only dared inquire! But she was afraid.
Sometimes she would be uneasy about Gaston’s jewels, constantly fearing that their hiding-place would be discovered. Then she would think, “I may as well be tranquil; misfortune has forgotten me.”
Poor, deluded woman! Misfortune is a visitor who sometimes delays his visits, but always comes in the end.
Louis de Clameran, the second son of the marquis, was one of those self-controlled men who, beneath a cool, careless manner, conceal a fiery temperament, and ungovernable passions.