In the few moments she had spent below, her features had become frightfully changed. Her face was livid and mottled with purple spots, her eyes were distended and glittered with a strange brilliancy. She let the plates which she held fall upon the table with a crash.
“The poison! it begins!” thought Blanche.
Marie-Anne stood on the hearth, gazing wildly around her, as if seeking the cause of her incomprehensible suffering. She passed and re-passed her hand across her forehead, which was bathed in a cold perspiration; she gasped for breath. Then suddenly, overcome with nausea, she staggered, pressed her hands convulsively upon her breast, and sank into the armchair, crying:
“Oh, God! how I suffer!”
Kneeling by the half-open door, Blanche eagerly watched the workings of the poison which she had administered.
She was so near her victim that she could distinguish the throbbing of her temples, and sometimes she fancied she could feel upon her cheek her rival’s breath, which scorched like flame.
An utter prostration followed Marie-Anne’s paroxysm of agony. One would have supposed her dead had it not been for the convulsive workings of the jaws and her labored breathing.
But soon the nausea returned, and she was seized with vomiting. Each effort to relieve seemed to wrench her whole body; and gradually a ghastly tint crept over her face, the spots upon her cheeks became more pronounced in tint, her eyes appeared ready to burst from their sockets, and great drops of perspiration rolled down her cheeks.
Her sufferings must have been intolerable. She moaned feebly at times, and occasionally rendered heart-rending shrieks. Then she faltered fragmentary sentences; she begged piteously for water or entreated God to shorten her torture.
“Ah, it is horrible! I suffer too much! Death! My God! grant me death!”
She invoked all the friends she had ever known, calling for aid in a despairing voice.
She called Mme. d’Escorval, the abbe, Maurice, her brother, Chanlouineau, Martial!
Martial, this name was more than sufficient to extinguish all pity in the heart of Mme. Blanche.
“Go on! call your lover, call!” she said to herself, bitterly. “He will come too late.”
And as Marie-Anne repeated the name in a tone of agonized entreaty:
“Suffer!” continued Mme. Blanche, “suffer, you who have inspired Martial with the odious courage to forsake me, his wife, as a drunken lackey would abandon the lowest of degraded creatures! Die, and my husband will return to me repentant.”
No, she had no pity. She felt a difficulty in breathing, but that resulted simply from the instinctive horror which the sufferings of others inspire—an entirely different physical impression, which is adorned with the fine name of sensibility, but which is, in reality, the grossest selfishness.