For several minutes after her departure, Louis stood rooted to the spot.
Her recital had filled his wicked mind with an idea so infamous, so detestable, that even his vile nature shrank for a moment from its enormity.
He knew Fauvel by reputation, and was calculating the advantages he might gain by the strange information of which he was now possessed by means of the old Mihonne. It was a secret, which, if skilfully managed, would bring him in a handsome income.
The few faint scruples he felt were silenced by the thought of an old age spent in poverty. After the price of the chateau was spent, to what could he look forward? Beggary.
“But first of all,” he thought, “I must ascertain the truth of the old woman’s story; then I will decide upon a plan.”
This was why, the next day, after receiving the five thousand two hundred and eighty francs from Fougeroux, Louis de Clameran set out for London.
During the twenty years of her married life, Valentine had experienced but one real sorrow; and this was one which, in the course of nature, must happen sooner or later.
In 1859 her mother caught a violent cold during one of her frequent journeys to Paris, and, in spite of every attention which money could procure, she became worse, and died.
The countess preserved her faculties to the last, and with her dying breath said to her daughter:
“Ah, well! was I not wise in prevailing upon you to bury the past? Your silence has made my old age peaceful and happy, and I now thank you for having done your duty to yourself and to me. You will be rewarded on earth and in heaven, my dear daughter.”
Mme. Fauvel constantly said that, since the loss of her mother, she had never had cause to shed a tear.
And what more could she wish for? As years rolled on, Andre’s love remained steadfast; he was as devoted a husband as the most exacting woman could wish. To his great love was added that sweet intimacy which results from long conformity of ideas and unbounded confidence.
Everything prospered with this happy couple. Andre was twice as wealthy as he had ever hoped to be even in his wildest visions; every wish of Valentine was anticipated by Andre; their two sons, Lucien and Abel, were handsome, intelligent young men, whose honorable characters and graceful bearing reflected credit upon their parents, who had so carefully watched over their education.
Nothing seemed wanting to insure Valentine’s felicity. When her husband and sons were at their business, her solitude was cheered by the intelligent, affectionate companionship of a young girl whom she loved as her own daughter, and who in return filled the place of a devoted child.
Madeleine was M. Fauvel’s niece, and when an infant had lost both parents, who were poor but very worthy people. Valentine begged to adopt the babe, thinking she could thus, in a measure, atone for the desertion of the poor little creature whom she had abandoned to strangers.