How could he, when his fortune, already much impaired, hung on chances as uncertain as those in a game of roulette? What nonsense! The failure of a great financial company had brought about a crisis on the Bourse. The news of the inability of Wermant, the ‘agent de change’, to meet his engagements, had completed the downfall of M. de Nailles. Not only death, but ruin, had entered that house, where, a few hours before, luxury and opulence had seemed to reign.
“We don’t know whether there will be anything left for us to live upon,” cried Madame de Nailles, with anguish, even while her husband’s body lay in the chamber of death, and Jacqueline, kneeling beside it, wept, unwilling to receive comfort or consolation.
She turned angrily upon her stepmother and cried:
“What matter? I have no father—there is nothing else I care for.”
But from that moment a dreadful thought, a thought she was ashamed of, which made her feel a monster of selfishness, rose in her mind, do what she would to hinder it. Jacqueline was sensible that she cared for something else; great as was her sense of loss, a sort of reckless curiosity seemed haunting her, while all the time she felt that her great grief ought not to give place to anything besides. “How would Gerard de Cymier behave in these circumstances?” She thought about it all one dreadful night as she and Modeste, who was telling her beads softly, sat in the faint light of the death-chamber. She thought of it at dawn, when, after one of those brief sleeps which come to the young under all conditions, she resumed with a sigh a sense of surrounding realities. Almost in the same instant she thought: “My dear father will never wake again,” and “Does he love me?—does he now wish me to be his wife?—will he take me away?” The devil, which put this thought into her heart, made her eager to know the answer to these questions. He suggested how dreadful life with her stepmother would be if no means of escape were offered her. He made her foresee that her stepmother would marry again—would marry Marien. “But I shall not be there!” she cried, “I will not countenance such an infamy!” Oh, how she hoped Gerard de Cymier loved her! The hypocritical tears of Madame de Nailles disgusted her. She could not bear to have such false grief associated with her own.