“We did have a little difference,” Oscar replied, quietly.
“Oh, it did not amount to anything,” he said, lighting his cigar; “let us make friends again, won’t you?” he added, holding out his hand to Jacqueline. She was obliged to give him the tips of her fingers, as she said in her turn, with audacity equal to his own:
“Oh, it was less than nothing. Only, Giselle, I told your husband that I had had some bad news, and shall have to go back to Paris, and he tried to persuade me not to go.”
“I beg you not to go,” said Oscar, vehemently.
“Bad news?” repeated Giselle, “you did not say a word to me about it!”
“I did not have a chance. My old Modeste is very ill and asks me to come to her. I should never forgive myself if I did not go.”
“What, Modeste? So very ill? Is it really so serious? What a pity! But you will come back again?”
“If I can. But I must leave Fresne to-morrow morning.”
“Oh, I defy you to leave Fresne!” said M. de Talbrun.
Jacqueline leaned toward him, and said firmly, but in a low voice: “If you attempt to hinder me, I swear I will tell everything.”
All that evening she did not leave Giselle’s side for a moment, and at night she locked herself into her chamber and barricaded the door, as if a mad dog or a murderer were at large in the chateau.
Giselle came into her room at an early hour.
“Is what you said yesterday the truth, Jacqueline? Is Modeste really ill? Are you sure you have had no reason to complain of anybody in this place?—of any one?”
Then, after a pause, she added:
“Oh, my darling, how hard it is to do good even to those whom we most dearly love.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Jacqueline, with an effort. “Everybody has been kind to me.”
They kissed each other with effusion, but M. de Talbrun’s leave-taking was icy in the extreme. Jacqueline had made a mortal enemy.
The grand outline of the chateau, built of brick and stone with its wings flanked by towers, the green turf of the great park in which it stood, passed from her sight as she drove away, like some vision in a dream.
“I shall never come back—never come back!” thought Jacqueline. She felt as if she had been thrust out everywhere. For one moment she thought of seeking refuge at Lizerolles, which was not very many miles from the railroad station, and when there of telling Madame d’Argy of her difficulties, and asking her advice; but false pride kept her from doing so—the same false pride which had made her write coldly, in answer to the letters full of feeling and sympathy Fred had written to her on receiving news of her father’s death.
The experience through which Jacqueline had just passed was not calculated to fortify her or to elevate her soul. She felt for the first time that her unprotected situation and her poverty exposed her to insult, for what other name could she give to the outrageous behavior of M. de Talbrun, which had degraded her in her own eyes?