For more than an hour after Raoul’s departure, Mme. Fauvel remained in a state of stupor bordering upon unconsciousness.
Gradually, however, she recovered her senses sufficiently to comprehend the horrors of her present situation; and, with the faculty of thought, that of suffering returned.
The dreadful scene in which she had taken part was still before her affrighted vision; all the attending circumstances, unnoticed at the time, now struck her forcibly.
She saw that she had been the dupe of a shameful conspiracy: that Raoul had tortured her with cold-blooded cruelty, had taken advantage of her tenderness, and had speculated upon her fright.
But had Prosper anything to do with the robbery? This Mme. Fauvel had no way of finding out. Ah, Raoul knew how the blow would strike when he accused Prosper. He knew that Mme. Fauvel would end by believing in the cashier’s complicity.
The unhappy woman sat and thought over every possible way in which Raoul could find out the secret word without Prosper’s knowledge. She rejected with horror the idea that the cashier was the instigator of the crime; but, in spite of herself, it constantly recurred. And finally she felt convinced that what Raoul said must be true; for who but Prosper could have betrayed the word? And who but Prosper could have left so large an amount of money in the safe, which, by order of the banker, was to be always left empty at night?
Knowing that Prosper was leading a life of extravagance and dissipation, she thought it very likely that he had, from sheer desperation, resorted to this bold step to pay his debts; her blind affection, moreover, made her anxious to attribute the crime to anyone, rather than to her darling son.
She had heard that Prosper was supporting one of those worthless creatures whose extravagance impoverishes men, and whose evil influence perverts their natures. When a young man is thus degraded, will he stop at any sin or crime? Alas! Mme. Fauvel knew, from her own sad experience, to what depths even one fault can lead. Although she believed Prosper guilty, she did not blame him, but considered herself responsible for his sins.
Had she not herself banished the poor young man from the fireside which he had begun to regard as his own? Had she not destroyed his hopes of happiness, by crushing his pure love for a noble girl, whom he looked upon as his future wife, and thus driven him into a life of dissipation and sin?
She was undecided whether to confide in Madeleine, or bury the secret in her own breast.
Fatally inspired, she decided to keep silent.
When Madeleine returned home at eleven o’clock, Mme. Fauvel not only was silent as to what had occurred, but even succeeded in so concealing all traces of her agitation, that she escaped any questions from her niece.