Then passing his hand across his forehead as if to chase away a wicked thought, he added:
“So it is irrevocable? You love him?”
“Enough to give you so much pain; enough to be nobody’s unless I belong to him.”
Pierre reflected a moment, then, coming to a decision:
“Go, you are free,” said he; “I give you back your promise.”
Micheline uttered a cry of triumph, which made him who had been her betrothed turn pale. She regretted not having hidden her joy better. She approached Pierre and said:
“Tell me that you forgive me!”
“I forgive you.”
“You still weep?”
“Yes; I am weeping over my lost happiness. I thought the best means of being loved were to deserve it. I was mistaken. I will courageously atone for my error. Excuse my weakness, and believe that you will never have a more faithful and devoted friend than I.”
Micheline gave him her hand, and, smiling, bowed her forehead to his lips. He slowly impressed a brotherly kiss, which effaced the burning trace of the one which he had stolen a moment before.
At the same time a deep voice was heard in the distance, calling Pierre. Micheline trembled.
“’Tis my mother,” she said. “She is seeking you. I will leave you. Adieu, and a thousand thanks from my very heart.”
And nimbly springing behind a clump of lilac-trees in flower, Micheline disappeared.
Pierre mechanically went toward the house. He ascended the marble steps and entered the drawing-room. As he shut the door, Madame Desvarennes appeared.
A CRITICAL INTERVIEW
Madame Desvarennes had been driven to the Hotel du Louvre without losing a minute. She most wanted to know in what state of mind her daughter’s betrothed had arrived in Paris. Had the letter, which brutally told him the truth, roused him and tightened the springs of his will? Was he ready for the struggle?
If she found him confident and bold, she had only to settle with him as to the common plan of action which must bring about the eviction of the audacious candidate who wished to marry Micheline. If she found him discouraged and doubtful of himself, she had decided to animate him with her ardor against Serge Panine.
She prepared these arguments on the way, and, boiling with impatience, outstripped in thought the fleet horse which was drawing her past the long railings of the Tuileries toward the Hotel du Louvre. Wrapped in her meditations she did not see Pierre. She was saying to herself:
“This fair-haired Polish dandy does not know with whom he has to deal. He will see what sort of a woman I am. He has not risen early enough in the morning to hoodwink me. If Pierre is only of the same opinion as I, we shall soon spoil this fortune-hunter’s work.”
The carriage stopped.