Standing beside the grand piano, with her arms waving as she sang, repeating, by the expression of her eyes, the question she had asked and to which she had received no answer, she was singing the verses she considered nonsense with as much point as if she had understood them, thanks to the hints given her by Madame Strahlberg, who was playing her accompaniment, when the entrance of a servant, who pronounced her name aloud, made a sudden interruption. “Mademoiselle de Nailles is wanted at home at once. Modeste has come for her.”
Madame d’Avrigny went out to say to the old servant: “She can not possibly go home with you! It is only half an hour since she came. The rehearsal is just beginning.”
But something Modeste said in answer made her give a little cry, full of consternation. She came quickly back, and going up to Jacqueline:
“My dear,” she said, “you must go home at once—there is bad news, your father is ill.”
The solemnity of Madame d’Avrigny’s voice, the pity in her expression, the affection with which she spoke and above all her total indifference to the fate of her rehearsal, frightened Jacqueline. She rushed away, not waiting to say good-by, leaving behind her a general murmur of “Poor thing!” while Madame d’Avrigny, recovering from her first shock, was already beginning to wonder—her instincts as an impresario coming once more to the front—whether the leading part might not be taken by Isabelle Ray. She would have to send out two hundred cards, at least, and put off her play for another fortnight. What a pity! It seemed as if misfortunes always happened just so as to interfere with pleasures.
The fiacre which had brought Modeste was at the door. The old nurse helped her young lady into it.
“What has happened to papa?” cried Jacqueline, impetuously.
There was something horrible in this sudden transition from gay excitement to the sharpest anxiety.
“Nothing—that is to say—he is very sick. Don’t tremble like that, my darling-courage!” stammered Modeste, who was frightened by her agitation.
“He was taken sick, you say. Where? How happened it?”
“In his study. Pierre had just brought him his letters. We thought we heard a noise as if a chair had been thrown down, and a sort of cry. I ran in to see. He was lying at full length on the floor.”
“And now? How is he now?”
“We did what we could for him. Madame came back. He is lying on his bed.”
Modeste covered her face with her hands.
“You have not told me all. What else?”
“Mon Dieu! you knew your poor father had heart disease. The last time the doctor saw him he thought his legs had swelled—”
“Had!” Jacqueline heard only that one word. It meant that the life of her father was a thing of the past. Hardly waiting till the fiacre could be stopped, she sprang out, rushed into the house, opened the door of her father’s chamber, pushing aside a servant who tried to stop her, and fell upon her knees beside the bed where lay the body of her father, white and rigid.