And then, when she was alone, what joy to open it, to decipher those magic characters, those words of love which swam before her eyes, surrounded by dazzling blue and yellow circles, as if she were reading her letter in the bright sunlight.
“I love you! Love me!” wrote Georges in every conceivable phrase.
At first she did not reply; but when she felt that he was fairly caught, entirely in her power, she declared herself concisely:
“I never will love any one but my husband.”
Ah! she was a true woman already, was little Chebe.
HOW LITTLE CHEBE’S STORY ENDED
Meanwhil September arrived. The hunting season brought together a large, noisy, vulgar party at the chateau. There were long dinners at which the wealthy bourgeois lingered slothfully and wearily, prone to fall asleep like peasants. They went in carriages to meet the returning hunters in the cool air of the autumn evening. The mist arose from the fields, from which the crops had been gathered; and while the frightened game flew along the stubble with plaintive cries, the darkness seemed to emerge from the forests whose dark masses increased in size, spreading out over the fields.
The carriage lamps were lighted, the hoods raised, and they drove quickly homeward with the fresh air blowing in their faces. The dining-hall, brilliantly illuminated, was filled with gayety and laughter.
Claire Fromont, embarrassed by the vulgarity of those about her, hardly spoke at all. Sidonie was at her brightest. The drive had given animation to her pale complexion and Parisian eyes. She knew how to laugh, understood a little too much, perhaps, and seemed to the male guests the only woman in the party. Her success completed Georges’s intoxication; but as his advances became more pronounced, she showed more and more reserve. Thereupon he determined that she should be his wife. He swore it to himself, with the exaggerated emphasis of weak characters, who seem always to combat beforehand the difficulties to which they know that they must yield some day.
It was the happiest moment of little Chebe’s life. Even aside from any ambitious project, her coquettish, false nature found a strange fascination in this intrigue, carried on mysteriously amid banquets and merry-makings.
No one about them suspected anything. Claire was at that healthy and delightful period of youth when the mind, only partly open, clings to the things it knows with blind confidence, in complete ignorance of treachery and falsehood. M. Fromont thought of nothing but his business. His wife polished her jewels with frenzied energy. Only old Gardinois and his little, gimlet-like eyes were to be feared; but Sidonie entertained him, and even if he had discovered anything, he was not the man to interfere with her future.
Her hour of triumph was near, when a sudden, unforeseen disaster blasted her hopes.