Madame Desvarennes listened to Marechal, without uttering a word. Events were hurrying on even quicker than she had dreaded. The fears of the interested shareholders outran even the hatred of Cayrol. What would the judges call Herzog’s underhand dealings? Would it be embezzlement? Or forgery? Would they come and arrest the Prince at her house? The house of Desvarennes, which had never received a visit from a sheriff’s officer, was it to be disgraced now by the presence of the police?
The mistress, in that fatal hour, became herself again. The strong-minded woman of old reappeared. Marechal was more alarmed at this sudden vigor than he had been at her late depression. When he saw Madame Desvarennes going toward the door, he made an effort to detain her.
“Where are you going, Madame?” he inquired, with anxiety.
The mistress gave him a look that terrified him, and answered:
“I am going to square accounts with the Prince.”
And, passing through the door leading to the little staircase, Madame Desvarennes went up to her son-in-law’s rooms.
THE MOTHER’S REVENGE
On leaving Herzog, Serge had turned his steps toward the Rue Saint-Dominique. He had delayed the moment of going home as long as possible, but the streets were beginning to be crowded. He might meet some people of his acquaintance. He resolved to face what ever reception was awaiting him on the way, he was planning what course he should adopt to bring about a reconciliation with his redoubtable mother-in-law. He was no longer proud, but felt quite broken down. Only Madame Desvarennes could put him on his feet again; and, as cowardly in trouble as he had been insolent in prosperity, he accepted beforehand all that she might impose upon him; all, provided that she would cover him with her protection.
He was frightened, not knowing how deep Herzog had led him in the mire. His moral sense had disappeared, but he had a vague instinct of the danger he had incurred. The financier’s last words came to his mind: “Confess all to your wife; she can get you out of this difficulty!” He understood the meaning of them, and resolved to follow the advice. Micheline loved him. In appealing to her heart, deeply wounded as it was, he would have in her an ally, and he had long known that Madame Desvarennes could not oppose her daughter in anything.
He entered the house through the back garden gate, and regained his room without making the slightest noise. He dreaded meeting Madame Desvarennes before seeing Micheline. First he changed his attire; he had walked about Paris in evening clothes. Looking in the glass he was surprised at the alteration in his features. Was his beauty going too? What would become of him if he failed to please. And, like an actor who is about to play an important part, he paid great attention to the making up of his face. He wished once more to captivate his wife, as his safety depended on the impression he was about to make on her. At last, satisfied with himself, he tried to look smiling, and went to his wife’s room.