“If I can once get him in the house,” thought Louis, “and make him begin, the excitement of his mother’s opposition will make him carry it through successfully. The cowardly baby! I would like to wring his neck!”
Although his breast was filled with these thoughts and fears, he was careful to conceal them from Raoul, and said soothingly:
“Now, don’t forget our arrangement, and be careful how you enter the house; everything depends upon your being unconcerned and cool, to avoid arousing suspicion in the eyes of anyone you may meet. Have you a pistol in your pocket?”
“Yes, yes! Let me alone!”
It was well that Clameran had accompanied Raoul; for, when he got in sight of the door, his courage gave way, and he longed to retreat.
“A poor, helpless woman!” he groaned, “and an honest man who pressed my hand in friendship yesterday, to be cowardly ruined, betrayed by me! Ah, it is too base! I cannot!”
“Come, don’t be a coward! I thought you had more nerve. Why, you might as well have remained virtuous and honest; you will never earn your salt in this sort of business.”
Raoul overcame his weakness, and, silencing the clamors of his conscience, rushed up the steps, and pulled the bell furiously.
“Is Mme. Fauvel at home?” he inquired of the servant who opened the door.
“Madame is alone in the sitting-room adjoining her chamber,” was the reply.
Raoul went upstairs.
Clameran’s last injunction to Raoul was:
“Be very cautious when you enter the room; your appearance must tell everything, so you can avoid preliminary explanations.”
The recommendation was useless.
The instant that Raoul went into the little salon, the sight of his pale, haggard face and wild eyes caused Mme. Fauvel to spring up with clasped hands, and cry out:
“Raoul! What has happened? Speak, my son!”
The sound of her tender, affectionate voice acted like an electric shock upon the young bandit. He shook like a leaf. But at the same time his mind seemed to change. Louis was not mistaken in his estimate of his companion’s character. Raoul was on the stage, his part was to be played; his assurance returned to him; his cheating, lying nature assumed the ascendant, and stifled any better feeling in his heart.
“This misfortune is the last I shall ever suffer, mother!”
Mme. Fauvel rushed toward him, and, seizing his hand, gazed searchingly into his eyes, as if to read his very soul.
“What is the matter? Raoul, my dear son, do tell me what troubles you.”
He gently pushed her from him.
“The matter is, my mother,” he said in a voice of heart-broken despair, “that I am an unworthy, degenerate son! Unworthy of you, unworthy of my noble father!”
She tried to comfort him by saying that his errors were all her fault, and that he was, in spite of all, the pride of her heart.