What right had that man to treat her as his plaything? Her pride and all her womanly instincts rose up in rebellion. Her nerves had been so shaken that she sobbed behind her veil all the way to her destination. Paris, when she reached it, offered her almost nothing that could comfort or amuse her. That city is always empty and dull in August, more so than at any other season. Even the poor occupation of teaching her little class of music pupils had been taken away by the holidays. Her sole resource was in Modeste’s society. Modeste—who, by the way, had never been ill, and who suffered from nothing but old age—was delighted to receive her dear young lady in her little room far up under the roof, where, though quite infirm, she lived comfortably, on her savings. Jacqueline, sitting beside her as she sewed, was soothed by her old nursery tales, or by anecdotes of former days. Her own relatives were often the old woman’s theme. She knew the history of Jacqueline’s family from beginning to end; but, wherever her story began, it invariably wound up with:
“If only your poor papa had not made away with all your money!”
And Jacqueline always answered:
“He was quite at liberty to do what he pleased with what belonged to him.”
“Belonged to him! Yes, but what belonged to you? And how does it happen that your stepmother seems so well off? Why doesn’t some family council interfere? My little pet, to think of your having to work for your living. It’s enough to kill me!”
“Bah! Modeste, there are worse things than being poor.”
“Maybe so,” answered the old nurse, doubtfully, “but when one has money troubles along with the rest, the money troubles make other things harder to bear; whereas, if you have money enough you can bear anything, and you would have had enough, after all, if you had married Monsieur Fred.”
At which point Jacqueline insisted that Modeste should be silent, and answered, resolutely: “I mean never to marry at all.”
To this Modeste made answer: “That’s another of your notions. The worst husband is always better than none; and I know, for I never married.”
“That’s why you talk such nonsense, my poor dear Modeste! You know nothing about it.”
One day, after one of these visits to the only friend, as she believed, who remained to her in the world—for her intimacy with Giselle was spoiled forever—she saw, as she walked with a heavy heart toward her convent in a distant quarter, an open fiacre pull up, in obedience to a sudden cry from a passenger who was sitting inside. The person sprang out, and rushed toward Jacqueline with loud exclamations of joy.
“Dear Jacqueline! What a pleasure to meet you!” And, the street being nearly empty, Madame Strahlberg heartily embraced her friend.
“I have thought of you so often, darling, for months past—they seem like years, like centuries! Where have you been all that long time?”