Martial de Sairmeuse’s unexpected visit to the Chateau de Courtornieu had alarmed Aunt Medea even more than Blanche.
In ten seconds, more ideas passed through her brain than had visited it for ten years.
She saw the gendarmes at the chateau; she saw her niece arrested, incarcerated in the Montaignac prison, and brought before the Court of Assizes.
If this were all she had to fear! But suppose she, too, were compromised, suspected of complicity, dragged before the judge, and even accused of being the sole culprit!
Finding the suspense intolerable, she left her room; and, stealing on tiptoe to the great drawing-room, she applied her ear to the door of the little blue salon, in which Blanche and Martial were seated.
The conversation which she heard convinced her that her fears were groundless.
She drew a long breath, as if a mighty burden had been lifted from her breast. But a new idea, which was to grow, flourish, and bear fruit, had just taken root in her brain.
When Martial left the room, Aunt Medea at once opened the communicating door and entered the blue salon, thus avowing that she had been a listener.
Twenty-four hours earlier she would not have dreamed of committing such an enormity.
“Well, Blanche, we were frightened at nothing,” she exclaimed.
Blanche did not reply.
She was deliberating, forcing herself to weigh the probable consequences of all these events which had succeeded each other with such marvellous rapidity.
“Perhaps the hour of my revenge is almost here,” murmured Blanche, as if communing with herself.
“What do you say?” inquired Aunt Medea, with evident curiosity.
“I say, aunt, that in less than a month I shall be Marquise de Sairmeuse in reality as well as in name. My husband will return to me, and then—oh, then!”
“God grant it!” said Aunt Medea, hypocritically.
In her secret heart she had but little faith in this prediction, and whether it was realized or not mattered little to her.
“Still another proof that your jealousy led you astray; and that—that what you did at the Borderie was unnecessary,” she said, in that low tone that accomplices always use in speaking of their crime.
Such had been the opinion of Blanche; but she now shook her head, and gloomily replied:
“You are wrong; that which took place at the Borderie has restored my husband to me. I understand it all, now. It is true that Marie-Anne was not Martial’s mistress, but Martial loved her. He loved her, and the rebuffs which he received only increased his passion. It was for her sake that he abandoned me; and never, while she lived, would he have thought of me. His emotion on seeing me was the remnant of the emotion which had been awakened by another. His tenderness was only the expression of his sorrow. Whatever happens, I shall have only her leavings—what she has disdained!” the young marquise added, bitterly; and her eyes flashed, and she stamped her foot in ungovernable anger. “And shall I regret what I have done?” she exclaimed; “never! no, never!”