As soon as Madame de Bergenheim had left the room, Christian arose and ran, rather than walked, to the space between the two windows, and sought the button in the woodwork of which Lambernier had told him. He soon found it, and upon his first pressure the spring worked and the panel flew open. The casket was upon the shelf; he took it and carefully examined the letters which it contained. The greater part of them resembled in form the one that he possessed; some of them were in envelopes directed to Madame de Bergenheim and bore Gerfaut’s crest. There was no doubt about the identity of the handwriting; if the Baron had had any, these proofs were enough. After glancing rapidly over a few of the notes, he replaced them in the casket and returned the latter to the shelf where he had found it. He then carefully closed the little door and reseated himself beside the fireplace.
When Clemence returned, her husband seemed absorbed in reading one of the books which he had found upon her table, while he mechanically played with a little bronze cup that his wife used to drop her rings in when she removed them.
“I have won my case,” said the Baroness, in a gay tone; “my aunt saw clearly the logic of the reasons which I gave her, and she defers her departure until your return.”
Christian made no reply.
“That means that she will not go at all, for her anger will have time to cool off in three days; at heart she is really kind!—How long is it since you have known English?” she asked, as she noticed that her husband’s attention seemed to be fixed upon a volume of Lord Byron’s poems.
Bergenheim threw the book on the table, raised his head and gazed calmly at his wife. In spite of all his efforts, his face had assumed an expression which would have frightened her if she had noticed it, but her eyes were fastened upon the cup which he was twisting in his hand as if it were made of clay.
“Mon Dieu! Christian, what is the matter with you? What are you doing to my poor cup?” she asked, with surprise mingled with a little of that fright which is so prompt to be aroused if one feels not above reproach.
He arose and put the misshapen bronze upon the table.
“I do not know what ails me to-night,” said he, “my nerves are unstrung. I will leave you, for I need rest myself. I shall start to-morrow morning before you are up, and I shall return Wednesday.”
“Not any later, I hope,” she said, with that soft, sweet voice, from which, in such circumstances, very few women have the loyalty to abstain.
He went out without replying, for he feared he might be no longer master of himself; he felt, when offered this hypocritical, almost criminal, caress, as if he would like to end it all by killing her on the spot.
Twenty-four hours had passed. The Baron had departed early in the morning, and so had all his guests, with the exception of Gerfaut and the artist. The day passed slowly and tediously. Aline had been vexed, somewhat estranged from her sister-in-law since their conversation in the little parlor. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was entirely occupied in restoring her poodle to health.