Yes, she would have been almost happy, could she have had news of Maurice. What had become of him? Why did he give no sign of life? What would she not have given in exchange for some word of counsel and of love from him?
The time was fast approaching when she would require a confidant; and there was no one in whom she could confide.
In this hour of extremity, when she really felt that her reason was failing her, she remembered the old physician at Vigano, who had been one of the witnesses to her marriage.
“He would help me if I called upon him for aid,” she thought.
She had no time to temporize or to reflect; she wrote to him immediately, giving the letter in charge of a youth in the neighborhood.
“The gentleman says you may rely upon him,” said the messenger on his return.
That very evening Marie-Anne heard someone rap at her door. It was the kind-hearted old man who had come to her relief.
He remained at the Borderie nearly a fortnight.
When he departed one morning, before daybreak, he took away with him under his large cloak an infant—a boy—whom he had sworn to cherish as his own child.
To quit Sairmeuse without any display of violence had cost Blanche an almost superhuman effort.
The wildest anger convulsed her soul at the very moment, when, with an assumption of melancholy dignity, she murmured those words of forgiveness.
Ah! had she obeyed the dictates of her resentment!
But her indomitable vanity aroused within her the heroism of a gladiator dying on the arena, with a smile upon his lips.
Falling, she intended to fall gracefully.
“No one shall see me weep; no one shall hear me complain,” she said to her despondent father; “try to imitate me.”
And on her return to the Chateau de Courtornieu, she was a stoic.
Her face, although pale, was as immobile as marble, beneath the curious gaze of the servants.
“I am to be called mademoiselle as in the past,” she said, imperiously. “Anyone forgetting this order will be dismissed.”
A maid forgot that very day, and uttered the prohibited word, “madame.” The poor girl was instantly dismissed, in spite of her tears and protestations.
All the servants were indignant.
“Does she hope to make us forget that she is married and that her husband has deserted her?” they queried.
Alas! she wished to forget it herself. She wished to annihilate all recollection of that fatal day whose sun had seen her a maiden, a wife, and a widow.
For was she not really a widow?
Only it was not death which had deprived her of her husband, but an odious rival—an infamous and perfidious creature lost to all sense of shame.
And yet, though she had been disdained, abandoned, and repulsed, she was no longer free.