This speech seemed to arouse all the bad passions slumbering in Clameran’s bosom; and his pale face had a fiendish expression as he fiercely replied:
“We had better end this humbuggery, and come to a clear understanding at once. Before you begin to talk about crime, think over your past life. You were not so timid and scrupulous when you gave yourself up to your lover; neither did you hesitate to faithlessly refuse to share his exile, although for your sake he had just jeopardized his life by killing two men. You felt no scruples at abandoning your child in London; although rolling in wealth, you never even inquired if this poor waif had bread to eat. You felt no scruples about marrying M. Fauvel. Did you tell your confiding husband of the lines of shame concealed beneath that orange wreath? Did you hesitate to confirm and strengthen his happy delusion, that his lips had pressed the first kiss upon your brow? No! All these crimes you indulged in; and, when in Gaston’s name I demand reparation, you indignantly refuse. But, mark my words, madame, it is too late! You ruined the father; but you shall save the son, or, by all the saints in heaven, I swear you shall no longer cheat the world of its esteem.”
“I will obey you, monsieur,” murmured the trembling, frightened woman.
The following week Raoul, now Raoul de Lagors, was seated at the banker’s dinner-table, between Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine.
It was not without the most painful suffering and self-condemnation that Mme. Fauvel submitted to the will of the pitiless Marquis of Clameran.
She had used every argument and entreaty to soften him; but he merely looked upon her with a triumphant, sneering smile, when she knelt at his feet, implored him to be merciful and spare her the shame and remorse of committing another crime. Spare her this torture, and she would grant anything else he wished, give Raoul all she possessed while alive, and insure him a handsome competency after her death.
Alas! neither tears nor prayers moved him. Disappointed, and almost desperate, she sought the intercession of her son.
Raoul was in a state of furious indignation at the sight of his mother’s distress, and hastened to demand an apology from Clameran.
But he had reckoned without his host. He soon returned with downcast eyes, and moodily angry at his own powerlessness, declaring that safety demanded a complete surrender to the tyrant.
Now only did the wretched woman fully fathom the abyss into which she was being dragged, and clearly see the labyrinth of crime of which she was becoming the victim.
And all this suffering was the consequence of a fault, an interview granted to Gaston. Ever since that fatal day she had been vainly struggling against the implacable logic of events. Her life had been spent in trying to overcome the past, and now it had risen to crush her.