“Georges, Georges, it is I. What is the matter?”
His wife stood before him, his wife who now waited for him every night, watching anxiously for his return from the club, for she still believed that he passed his evenings there. That night she had heard him walking very late in his room. At last her child fell asleep, and Claire, hearing the father sob, ran to him.
Oh! what boundless, though tardy remorse overwhelmed him when he saw her before him, so deeply moved, so lovely and so loving! Yes, she was in very truth the true companion, the faithful friend. How could he have deserted her? For a long, long time he wept upon her shoulder, unable to speak. And it was fortunate that he did not speak, for he would have told her all, all. The unhappy man felt the need of pouring out his heart—an irresistible longing to accuse himself, to ask forgiveness, to lessen the weight of the remorse that was crushing him.
She spared him the pain of uttering a word:
“You have been gambling, have you not? You have lost—lost heavily?”
He moved his head affirmatively; then, when he was able to speak, he confessed that he must have a hundred thousand francs for the day after the morrow, and that he did not know how to obtain them.
She did not reproach him. She was one of those women who, when face to face with disaster, think only of repairing it, without a word of recrimination. Indeed, in the bottom of her heart she blessed this misfortune which brought him nearer to her and became a bond between their two lives, which had long lain so far apart. She reflected a moment. Then, with an effort indicating a resolution which had cost a bitter struggle, she said:
“Not all is lost as yet. I will go to Savigny tomorrow and ask my grandfather for the money.”
He would never have dared to suggest that to her. Indeed, it would never have occurred to him. She was so proud and old Gardinois so hard! Surely that was a great sacrifice for her to make for him, and a striking proof of her love.
“Claire, Claire—how good your are!” he said.
Without replying, she led him to their child’s cradle.
“Kiss her,” she said softly; and as they stood there side by side, their heads leaning over the child, Georges was afraid of waking her, and he embraced the mother passionately.
“Ah! here’s Sigismond. How goes the world, Pere Sigismond? How is business? Is it good with you?”